Skip to main content


See other formats


A. A K 

THE American intellectual has usually 
been regarded with considerable suspi 
cion or resentment by his countrymen, 
and in our own times the old matter-of- 
fact designation of him as the "highbrow" 
has been succeeded by the more derisive 
"egghead/ In this stimulating book, a 
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian uses the 
idea of anti-intellectualism as a device for 
looking at several of the less attractive as 
pects of American life. 

This is not a formal history of a single 
idea, but rather an extended personal es 
say which explores various features of 
the American character. Mr. Hofstadter 
deals, in turn, with the peculiarly dismal 
anti-intellectual climate of the 1 950*8; with 
the evangelical religious movements from 
the Great Awakening to Billy Graham; 
with the decline of the educated gentle 
man in American politics before the era 
of "the expert"; with the insistent ideal of 
practicality among American business 
men; and with anti-intellectualism in edu 
cationthe absurdities of life-adjustment 
theory and the uses and misuses of John 
Dewey, His concern is not merely to por 
tray the scorners of intellect in American 
life, but to say something about what the 
intellectual is, and can be, as a force in a 
democratic society, 


FEB 1 8 1973 
A\ ?M 8 1978" 

148 UUI44 1260 

j JAN 1 3 
: 1 989 
| 2 5 1989 


yf ->* * -^ -, x 


r\ - -. -. . 
i/*H j| K- ! 

* * ..*4 ^ 


Richard Hofstadter 

American Higher Education: A Documentary History 

The American Republic 


Great Issues in American History 


The United States 


The Age of Reform 

The Development of Academic Freedom in the United States 


The Development and Scope of Higher Education 

in the United States 
(WITH c. BE wirr HARDY) 

The American Political Tradition 


Social Darwinism in American Thought 


I N 





B Y 




L. C. catalog card number: 6314086 


Copyright 19621, 1963 by RICHARD HOFSTADTBR. All 
rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced 
in any form without permission in writing from the pub 
lisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages 
in a review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper. 
Manufactured in the United States of America, and dis 
tributed by Random House, Inc, Published simultaneously 
in Toronto, Canada, by Random House 
of Canada, Limited* 


Chapter 7 appeared in somewhat different form as * "Ideal 
ists and Professors and Sore-heads*: The Genteel Reform 
ers" in the Columbia University Forum. Chapter 14 ap 
peared in somewhat different form as "The Child and the 
World" in Daedalw. 

T O 

E. A. H. 





HAT is ordinarily done in prefaces I have tried to do in my 
first two chapters, which explain the origin and the intent of this book, 
as well as its central terms. But one thing should be particularly clear 
at the beginning: what I have done is merely to use the idea o anti- 
intellectualism as a device for looking at various aspects, hardly the 
most appealing, of American society and culture. Despite the fringes 
of documentation on many of its pages, this work is by no means 
a formal history but largely a personal book, whose factual details 
are organized and dominated by my views. The theme itself has been 
developed in a manner that is by choice rather impulsive and by 
necessity only fragmentary. 

If one is to look at a society like ours from its nether end, so to speak, 
through scores of consecutive pages, one must resolve to risk wound 
ing the national amour-propre, although this can only divert attention 
from the business at hand, which is to shed a little light on our cul 
tural problems. One must resolve still more firmly to run some slight 
risk of encouraging the canting and self-righteous anti-Americanism 
that in Europe today so commonly masquerades as well-informed 
criticism of this country. For all their bragging and their hypersensitiv- 
ity, Americans are, if not the most self-critical, at least the most anx 
iously self-conscious people in the world, forever concerned about the 
inadequacy of something or other their national morality, their na 
tional culture, their national purpose. This very uncertainty has given 
their intellectuals a critical function of special interest. The appropria 
tion of some of this self-criticism by foreign ideologues for purposes 


that go beyond its original scope or intention is an inevitable 
But the possibility that a sound enterprise in self-correction 
overheard and misused is the poorest of reasons for suspen 
On this count I admire the spirit of Emerson, who wrote: 
honestly state the facts. Our America has a bad name for suf 
ness. Great men, great nations, have not been boasters and b 
but perceivers of the terror of life, and have manned thems< 
face it." 




CHAPTER i Anti-intellectualism in Our Time 3 

2, On the Unpopularity of Intellect 24 


3 The Evangelical Spirit 55 

4 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 81 

5 The Revolt against Modernity 117 


6 The Decline of the Gentleman 145 

7 The Fate of the Reformer 172 

8 The Rise of the Expert 197 


9 Business and Intellect 5233 

10 Self-Help and Spiritual Technology 253 

11 Variations on a Theme 


12 The School and the Teacher 299 

13 The Road to Life Adjustment 32-3 

14 The Child and the World 359 


15 The Intellectual: Alienation and Conformity 393 
Acknowledgments 433 
INDEX follows page 434 



3 ] 


in Our Time 


ALTHOUGH this book deals mainly with certain aspects of the re 
moter American past, it was conceived in response to the^political and 
Intellectual conrliHrms of 1 950*3. During that decade the term anti- 
inteUectualism, only rarely heard before, became a familiar part of our 
national vocabulary of self -recrimination and intramural abuse. In the 
past, American intellectuals were often discouraged or embittered by 
the national disrespect for mind, but it is hard to recall a time when 
large numbers of people outside the intellectual community shared 
their concern, or when self-criticism on this count took on the character 
of a nation-wide movement. 

Primarily it was McCarthyism which, aroused the f ear that the critical 
mind was at a ruinou$ discount in this country. Of course, intellectuals 
were not the only targets of McCarthy s constant detonations he was 
after bigger game but intellectuals were in the line of fire, and it 
seemed to give special rejoicing to his followers when they were 
hit. Hjs sorties against intellectuals and universities were emulated 
throughout the country by a host of less exalted inquisitors. Then, in 
the atmosphere of fervent malice and humorless imbecility stirred up 
by McCarthy s barrage of accusations, the campaign of_iQSg drama- 
between iij^ellect and 

candidates. On one side was Adlai Stevenson, a politician of uncom 
mon mind and style, whose appeal to intellectuals overshadowed any 
thing in recent history. On the other was Dwight D. Eisenhower, 


conventional in mind, relatively inarticulate, harnessed to the unpalat 
able Nixon, and waging a campaign whose tone seemed to be set less 
by the general himself than by his running mate and the McCarthyite 
wing of his party. 

Eisenhower s decisive victory was taken both by the intellectuals 

themselves and by their critics as a measure of their repudiation by 

America. Time, the weekly magazine of opinion, shook its head in an 

unconvincing imitation of concern. Eisenhower s victory, it said, "dis 

closes an alarming fact long suspected: there is a wide and unhealthy 

gap between the American intellectuals and the people/ Arthur 

Schlesinger, Jr., in a mordant protest written soon after the election, 

found the intellectual "in a situation he has not known for a genera 

tion." After twenty years of Democratic rule, during which the in 

tellectual had been in the main understood and respected, business 

had come back into power, bringing with it "the vulgarization which 

has been the almost invariable consequence of business supremacy." 

Now the intellectual, dismissed as an "egghead/* an oddity, would be 

governed by a party which had little use for or understanding of him, 

and would be made the scapegoat for everything from the income tax 

to the attack on Pearl Harbor. "Anti-intcllectualism/ Schlesinger re 

marked, "has long been the anti-Semitism of the businessman, , . 

The intellectual ... is on the run today in American society." * 

All this seemed to be amply justified when the new administration 
got under way. The replacement* jn^ Stevenson s phrase, of the New 
Dealers by^tte^cajr dealers seemed to make final th^ repudiation gf 
intellectuals and th^ir j/alues they had already been overshadowed 
by the courthouse politicians of the Truman years. The country was 
now treated to Charles E* Wilson s sallies at pure research, to stories 
about Eisenhower s fondness for Western fiction as reading matter, and 
to his definition of an intellectual as a wordy and pretentious man. 
But during the Ejgenhower administration the national moodjreac&ed 
a turning point: the McCarthyite rage, confronted by a Republican 
president, burned itself out; the senator from Wisconsin isolated him 
self, was censured, and deflated. Finally, in 1952^-^^^ 
Sputnik by the_Sovic^ jpreeip|tated one of Jthose^ 
self-conscious national 

prone. The Sputnik was more than a shock to American national 
vanity; it brought an immense amount of attention to bear on the 

1 Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: "The Highbrow in Politics/ Partisan Review > Vol. XX 
( March-April 1953), pp. i6a~5; Time is quoted here, p. 159. 

5 Anti-intellectualism in Our Time 

consequences of anti-intellectualism in the school system and in Ameri 
can life at large. Suddenly the national distaste for intellect appeared 
to be not just a disgrace but a hazard to survival. After assuming for 
some years that its main concern with teachers was to examine them 
for disloyalty, the nation now began to worry about their low salaries. 
Scientists, who had been saying for years that the growing obsession 
with security was demoralizing to research, suddenly found receptive 
listeners. Cries of protest against the slackness of American education, 
hitherto raised only by a small number of educational critics, were 
now taken up by television, mass magazines, businessmen, scientists, 
politicians, admirals, and university presidents, and soon swelled into 
a national chorus of self-reproach. Of course, all this did not immedi 
ately cause the vigilante mind to disappear, nor did it disperse anti- 
intellectualism as a force in American life; even in the sphere most 
immediately affected, that of education, the ruling passion of the 
public seemed to be for producing more Sputniks, not for developing 
more intellect, and some of the new rhetoric about education almost 
suggested that gifted children were to be regarded as resources in the 
cold war. But the atmosphere did change notably. In 1952 onlyjntellec- 
tuals seemed muc^h disturbed by the specter of anti-intellectualism; 
by 1958 the idea that this might be an important and even a dangerous 
national f ailing was pergu^sive tq mosF^ people. 

Today it is possible to look at the political culture of the igso s with 
some detachment. If there was then a tendency to see in Mc- 
Carthyism, and even in the Eisenhower administration, some apoca 
lypse for intellectuals in public life, it is no longer possible, now that 
Washington has again become so hospitable to Harvard professors and 
ex-Rhodes scholars. If there was a suspicion that intellect had become 
a hopeless obstacle to success in politics or administration, it must 
surely have been put to rest by the new President s obvious interest in 
ideas and respect for intellectuals, his ceremonial gestures to make 
that respect manifest in affairs of state, his pleasure in the company 
and advice of men of intellectual power, and above all by the long, 
careful search for distinguished talents with which his administration 
began. On the other hand, if there had ever been an excessive con 
fidence that the recruitment of such talents would altogether trans 
form the conduct of our affairs, time has surely brought its inevitable 
disenchantment. We have now reached a point at which intellectuals 
can discuss anti-intellectualism without exaggerated partisanship or 


The political ferment and educational controversy of the 1950*3 
made the term anti-intellectual a central epithet in American self- 
evaluation; it has slipped unobtrusively into our usage without much 
definition and is commonly used to describe a variety of unwel 
come phenomena. Those who have suddenly become aware of it often 
assume that anti-intellectualism is a new force in this or that area of 
life, and that, being a product of recent conditions, it may be expected 
to grow to overwhelming proportions. (American intellectuals have a 
lamentably thin sense of history; and modern man has lived so long un 
der the shadow of some kind of apocalypse or other that intellectuals 
have come to look upon even the lesser eddies of social change as 
though they were tidal waves. ) But to students of Americana the anti- 
intellectual note so commonly struck during the 1950*3 sounded not new 
at all, but rather familiar. Anti-intellectualism was not manifested in 
this country for the first time during the 1950*5. Our anti-intellectualism 
is, in fact, older than our national identity, and has a long historical 
background, An examination of this background suggests that regard 
for intellectuals.^ Jit^^ not moved steadily downward 

and has not gone into a sudden, recent decline, but is subject to cyclical 
fluctuations; it suggests, too, that the resentment from which the in 
tellectual has suffered in our time is a manifestation not of a decline 
in his position but of his increasing prominence. We know rather little 
about all this in any systematic way, and there has not been very much 
historically informed thinking on the subject, A great deal has been 
written about the long-running quarrel between American intellectuals 
and their country, but such writings deal mainly with America as seen 
by the intellectuals, and give only occasional glimpses of intellect and 
intellectuals as seen by America,* 

One reason anti-intellectualism has not even been clearly defined 

2 The only American historian, to my knowledge, who has concerned himself 
extensively with the problem is Merle Gurti, in his suggestive volume, Ameri 
can Paradox ( New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1956 ) and in his presidential address 
before the. American Historical Association, "Intellectuals and Other People/ 
American Historical Review, Vol. LX (January 1955), pp. *so-8a. Jacques 
Barssun, in The House of Intellect (New York, 1959 )> has dealt with the subject 
largely in contemporary terms and largely with internal strains within the intel- 

ual and cultural world, An entire number of tho Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 
No. 3 (1955), was devoted to discussions of anti-intellectualism by various 

7 Anti-intellectualism in Our Time 

is that its very vagueness makes it more serviceable in controversy as 
an epithet. But, in any case, it does not yield very readily to definition. 
As an idea, it is not a single proposition but a complex of related 
propositions. As an attitude, it is not usually foundJqLJLguj^J^SP but 
in ambivalence a pure and unalloyed dislike of intellect or intel 
lectuals is uncommon. And as a Jalatacical . subject, if it can be called 
that, it is not a constant thread but a ior^ej^tuatin^menth from 

time to time and drawing its motive power from varying sources. In 
these pages I have not held myself to a rigorous or narrow definition, 
which would here be rather misplaced. I can see little advantage in a 
logically defensible but historically arbitrary act of definition, which 
would demand singling out one trait among a complex of traits. It is 
the complex itself I am interested in the complex of historical rela 
tions among a variety of attitudes and ideas that have many points of 
convergence. The common strajjx j-hat JbinAg tng^i-TiRr fh^ attjjujjRs and 

ideas Which I Call a-nH-i-nf^n^rfnal fa ft r^gp""trne^^ l^jiA <;:iTgpiVinr> nf tVift 

life flf the m|nd and of those who are considered to representjt^ and a 
disposition^congtantly to minimize the valxie^DdLihatJife,. This admit 
tedly general formulation is as close as I find it useful to venture 
toward definition. 8 

Once this procedure is adopted, it will be clear that anti- 
intellectualism cannot be made the subject of a formal history in quite 
the same way as the life of a man or the development of an institution 
or a social movement. Dealing as I do with the milieu, the atmosphere, 
in which American thinking has taken place, I have had to use those 
impressionistic devices with which one attempts to reproduce a milieu 
or capture an atmosphere. 

Before giving some examples of what I mean by anti-intellectualism, 
I may perhaps explain what I do not mean. I am not dealing, except 
incidentally, with the internal feuds or contentions of the American 
intellectual community. American intellectuals, like intellectuals else 
where, are often uneasy in their role; they are given to moments of 
self-dou ^t, and even of self -hatred, and at times they make acidulous 
and swe ping comments on the whole tribe to which they belong. This 
internal Criticism is revealing and interesting, but it is not my main 

8 For a ]\ interesting exercise in definition, see Morton White : "Reflections on 
Anti- Intel ectualism/ Daedalus (Summer, 1965,), pp. 45768, White makes a use 
ful distinction between the anti-intellectual, who is hostile to intellectuals, and 
th anti-intellectualist, who is critical of the claims of rational intellect in knowl 
edge and in life. He treats at some length the respective strategies of the two, and 
their points of convergence. 


concern. Neither is the ill-mannered or ill-considered criticism that one 
intellectual may make of another. No one, for example, ever poured 
more scorn on the American professoriat than H. L. Mencken, and no 
one has portrayed other writers in fiction with more venom than Mary 
McCarthy; but we would not on this account dream of classing 
Mencken with William F. Buckley as an enemy of the professors nor 
Miss McCarthy with the late senator of the same name. 4 The criticism 
of other intellectuals is, after all, one of the most important functions 
of the intellectual, and he customarily performs it with vivacity. We 
may hope, but we can hardly expect, that he will also do it with 
charity, grace, and precision. Because it is the business of intellectuals 
to be diverse and contrary-minded, we must accept the risk that at 
times they will be merely quarrelsome. 

It is important, finally, if we are to avoid hopeless confusion, to be 
clear that anti-intellectualism is not here identified with a type of 
philosophical doctrine which I prefer to call anti-rationalism. The 
ideas of thinkers like Nietzsche, Sorel, or Bergson, Emerson, Whitman, 
or William James, or of writers like William Blake, D. H. Lawrence, or 
Ernest Hemingway may be called anti-rationalist; but these men were 
not characteristically anti-intellectual in the sociological and political 
sense in which I use the term. It is of course true that anti-intellcctualist 

4 These considerations serve as a forcible reminder that there is in America, as 
elsewhere, a kind of intellectual establishment that embraces a wide range of 
views. It is generally understood (although there are marginal cases) whether a 
particular person is inside or outside this establishment. The establishment has a 
double standard for evaluating the criticism of the intellectuals; criticism from 
within is commonly accepted as having a basically benign intent and is more likely 
to be heard solely on its merits; but criticism from outside even th same criticism 
will be resented as hostile and stigmatized as anti-intellectual and potentially 
dangerous. For example, some years ago many intellectuals were critical of the 
great foundations for devoting too much of their research money to the support of 
large-budget "projects," as opposed to individual scholarship. But when the Reece 
Committee was hot on the trail of the foundations, the same intellectuals were not 
happy to see the same criticism (among others more specious) pressed by such 
an agency. It was not that they had ceased to believe in th criticism but that they 
neither liked nor trusted the source. ? 

Of course, not only intellectuals do this; it is a common phenomenon * of group 
life. Members of a political party or a minority group may invoke a simi *iir double 
standard against criticism, depending on whether it originates from insi le or out 
side the ranks. There is, moreover, som justification for such double standards, in 
historical fact if not in logic, the intent that lies behind criticise * unfortu 
nately becomes an ingredient in its applicability. The intellectuals wha criticized 
the foundations were doing so in the hope (as they saw it) of constructively modi 
fying foundation policies, whereas th line of inquiry pursued by the Eeece Com 
mittee Bright have led to crippling or destroying them. Again, veryone under- 
stands %at a joke, say, about Jews or Negroes has different overtones when it is 
told within the group and when it is told by outsiders. 

9 Anti irtfettectualism in Our Time 

movements often invoke the ideas of such anti-rationalist thinkers 
(Emerson alone has provided them with a great many texts); but 
only when they do, and only marginally^ is highbrow anti-rationalism 
a part of my story. In these pages I am centrally concerned -with wide 
spread social attitudes, with political behavior, and with middle-brow 
and low-brow responses, only incidentally with articulate theories. 
The attitudes that interest me most are those which would, to the ex 
tent that they become effective in our affairs, gravely inhibit or im 
poverish intellectual and cultural life. Some examples, taken from our 
recent history, may put flesh on the bare bones of definition. 

We might begin with some definitions supplied by those most acutely 
dissatisfied with American intellectuals. 

Exhibit A. During the campaign of 1952, the country seemed to be in 
need of some term to express that disdain for intellectuals which had 
by then become a self-conscious motif in American politics. The word 
egghead was originally used without invidious associations, 5 but quickly 
assumed them, and acquired a much sharper overtone than the tradi 
tional highbrow. Shortly after the campaign was over, Louis Bromfield, 
a popular novelist of right-wing political persuasion, suggested that the 
word might some day find its way into dictionaries as follows: 6 

Egghead: A person of spurious intellectual pretensions, often a 
professor or the protege of a professor. Fundamentally superficial. 
Over-emotional and feminine in reactions to any problem. Super 
cilious and surfeited with conceit and contempt for the experi 
ence of more sound and able men. Essentially confused in thought 
and immersed in mixture of sentimentality and violent evange 
lism. A doctrinaire supporter of Middle-European socialism as 
opposed to Greco-French-American ideas of democracy and liber 
alism. Subject to the old-fashioned philosophical morality of 
Nietzs foe which frequently leads him into jail or disgrace. A self- 

5 The terra was taken up as a consequence of a column by Stewart Alsop, in 
which that reporter recorded a conversation with his brother John. The columnist 
remarked that many intelligent people who were normally Republicans obviously 
admired Stevenson. "Sure, said his brother, "all the egg-heads love Stevenson. 
But how riteny egg-heads do you think there are?" Joseph and Stewart Alsop: 
The Reporter s Trade (New York, 1958), p. 188, 

6 Louis feromfield: "The Triumph of the Egghead/ The Freeman, Vol. Ill 
(Decembe i, 1952), p. 158. 


conscious prig, so given to examining all sides of a question that 
he becomes thoroughly addled while remaining always in the 
same spot. An anemic bleeding heart. 

"The recent election," Bromfield remarked, "demonstrated a number 
of things, not the least of them being the extreme remoteness of the 
egghead from the thought and feeling of the whole of the people." 

Exhibit B. Almost two years later President Eisenhower appeared to 
give official sanction to a similarly disdainful view of intellectuals. 
Speaking at a Republican meeting in Los Angeles in 1954, he reported 
a view, expressed to him by a trade-union leader, that the people, 
presented with the whole truth, will always support the right cause. 
The President added: 7 

It was a rather comforting thought to have this labor leader 
saying this, when we had so many wisecracking so-called intel 
lectuals going around and showing how wrong was everybody 
who don t happen to agree with them. 

By the way, I heard a definition of an intellectual that I 
thought was very interesting: a man who takes more words than 
are necessary to tell more than he knows. 

Exhibit C. One of the issues at stake in the controversies of the 1950*3 
was the old one about the place of expertise in political life. Perhaps 
the high moment in the case against the expert and for the amateur 
occurred in 1957 when a chain-store president, Maxwell H. Cluck, was 
nominated to be ambassador to Ceylon. Mr. Gluck had contributed, 
by his own estimate, $20,000 or $30,000 to the Republican campaign 
of 1956, but, like many such appointees before him, was not known 
for having any experience in politics or diplomacy. Questioned by 
Senator Fulbright about his qualifications for the post, Mr. Gluck had 
some difficulty: 8 

FULBRIGHT : What are the problems in Ceylon you think you can 

deal with? 

GLUCK : One of the problems are the people there, I Relieve I 
can I think I can establish, unless we a^fin, rni- 

7 White House Press Release, "Remarks of the President at tho Brenkfust 
Given by Various Republican Groups of Southern California, Statlar Hotel, Los 
Angeles . . . September #4, 1954," p. 4; italics added. It i$ possible tjint the Presi 
dent had heard something of the kind from his Secretary of Defensjk Charles E. 


, who was quoted elsewhere as saying: "An egghead is a man who doesn t 
stand everything he knows/" Richard and Gladys Harkness: "The Wit and 
Wisdj,of Charlie Wilson," Header * Digest, VoL LXXI (August, 19*7), p. 197. 
s rftfeA Times, August i, 1957. 

ii Anti-intelleatualism in Our Time 

less I run into something that I have not run into 
before a good relationship and good feeling toward 
the United States. . . . 
FULBRIGHT Do you know our Ambassador to India? 




I know John Sherman Cooper, the previous Ambas 

Do you know who the Prime Minister of India is? 
Yes, but I can t pronounce his name. 
Do you know who the Prime Minister of Ceylon is? 
His name is unfamiliar now, I cannot call it off. 

Doubts about Mr. Cluck s preparation for the post he was to oc 
cupy led to the suggestion that he had been named because of 
his contribution to the Republican campaign. In a press conference 
held July 31, 1957, a reporter raised the question, whereupon Presi 
dent Eisenhower remarked that an appointment in return for cam 
paign contributions was unthinkable. About his nominee s competence, 
he observed: 9 

Now, as to the man s ignorance, this is the way he was ap 
pointed: he was selected from a group of men that were recom 
mended highly by a number of people I respect. His business 
career was examined, the F.B.I. reports on him were all good. 
Of course, we knew he had never been to Ceylon, he wasn t thor 
oughly familiar with it; but certainly he can learn if he is the 
kind of character and kind of man we believe him to be. 
It is important to add that Mr. Gluck s service in Ceylon was termi 
nated after a year by his resignation. 

Exhibit D. One of the grievances of American scientists was their 
awareness that America s disdain for pure science was a handicap not 
only to investigation but also to the progress of research and develop 
ment in the Department of Defense. Examining Secretary of Defense 
Charles E. Wilson in 1954 before the Senate Committee on Armed 
Services, Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri quoted earlier testi 
mony in which the Secretary had said, among other things, that if 
there was to be pure research it should be subsidized by some agency 
other than the Department of Defense. "I am not much interested," 
Secretary Wilson had testified, "as a military project in why potatoes 
turn brown when they are fried." Pressing Secretary Wilson, Senator 
Symington pointed to testimony that had been given about the lack of 

e Ibid. 


sufficient money for research not on potatoes but on bombers, nuclear 
propulsion, electronics, missiles, radar, and other subjects. The Secre 
tary replied: * 

Important research and development is going on in all those 
areas. . . . 

On the other side, it is very difficult to get these men who are 
trying to think out ahead all the time to come down to brass 
tacks and list the projects and what they expect to get. . . . 
They would just like to have a pot of money without too much 
supervision that they could reach into. . . . 

In the first place, if you knoto what you are doing, why it is 
not pure research. That complicates it. 

Exhibit E. The kind of anti-intellectualism expressed in official circles 
during the 1950*3 was mainly the traditional businessman s suspicion 
of experts -working in any area outside his control, whether in scientific 
laboratories, universities, or diplomatic corps. Far more acute and 
sweeping was the hostility to intellectuals expressed on the far-right 
wing, a categoxical folkish dislike of the educated classes and of any 
thing respectable, established, pedigreed, or cultivated. The right-wing 
crusade of the 1950*8 was full of heated rhetoric about "Harvard pro 
fessors, twisted-thinking intellectuals ... in the State Department**; 
those who are "burdened with Phi Beta Kappa keys and academic 
honors" but not "equally loaded with honesty and common sense"; 
"the American respectables, the socially pedigreed, the culturally ac 
ceptable, the certified gentlemen and scholars of the day, dripping 
with college degrees . * . the "best people" who were for Alger Hiss"; 
"the pompous diplomat in striped pants with phony British accent"; 
those who try to fight Communism "with kid gloves in perfumed draw 
ing rooms "; Easterners who "insult the people of the great Midwest 
and West, the heart of America"; those who can "trace their ancestry 
back to the eighteenth century or even further" but whoso loyalty is 
still not above suspicion; those who understand "the Grotorx vocabulary 
of the Hiss-Achcson group." 2 The spirit of this rhetorical jacquerie was 
caught by an editorial writer for the Freeman: 8 

1 U.S. Congress, 84th Congress, and session, Senate Committee on Armed Serv 
ices: Hearings, Vol. XVI, pp, 174$, 1744 (July a, 1956 ); italics added, 

2 This melange of images is taken from the more extended account of the scape 
goats of the 1950*3 in Immanuel Wallerstein s unpublished M.A, essay; "McCarthy- 
ism and the Conservative/* Columbia University, 1954, pp. 46 ff. 

8 Freeman, VoL XX (November 5, 1951)^ p. 7% 

!3 Anti-intellectualism in Our Time 

The truly appalling phenomenon is the irrationality of the 
college-educated mob that has descended upon Joseph R. Mc 
Carthy. . . . Suppose Mr. McCarthy were indeed the cad the 
"respectable" press makes him out to be; would this . . . justify 
the cataclysmic eruptions that, for almost a year now, have ema 
nated from all the better appointed editorial offices of New York 
and Washington, D.C.? ... It must be something in McCarthy s 
personal makeup. He possesses, it seems, a sort of animal negative- 
pole magnetism which repels alumni of Harvard, Princeton and 
Yale. And we think we know what it is: This young man is con 
stitutionally incapable of deference to social status. 

McCarthy himself found the central reasons for America s difficulties 
in areas where social status was most secure. The trouble^ he said in 
the published version of his famous Wheeling speech, lay in 4 

the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by 
this Nation. It has not been the less fortunate or members of 
minority groups who have been selling this Nation out, but rather 
those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest nation on 
earth has had to offer the finest homes, the finest college educa 
tion, and the finest jobs in Government we can give. This is glar 
ingly true in the State Department. There the bright young men 
who are born with silver spoons in their mouths are the ones who 
have been worst. 

Exhibit F. The universities, particularly the better-known universities, 
were constantly marked out as targets by right-wing critics; but ac 
cording to one writer in the Freeman there appears to have been only 
an arbitrary reason for this discrimination against the Ivy League, since 
he considered that Communism is spreading in all our colleges: e 

Our universities are the training grounds for the barbarians of 
the future, those who, in the guise of learning, shall come forth 
loaded with pitchforks of ignorance and cynicism, and stab and 
destroy the remnants of human civilization. It will not be the 
subway peasants who will tear down the walls: they will merely 
do the bidding of our learned brethren . . who will erase indi 
vidual Freedom from the ledgers of human thought. . . . 

* Congressional Record, 8ist Congress, and session, p. 1954 (February ao, 

5 Tack Schwartzman: "Natural Law and the Campus," Freeman* Vol. II (De 
cember 3, 1951 ) PP- 


If you send your son to tihe colleges of today, you will create 
the Executioner of tomorrow. The rebirth of idealism must come 
from the scattered monasteries of non-collegiate thought. 

Exhibit G. Right-wing hostility to universities was in part a question 
of deference and social ^ta&sjb^^jgart^^o a" reflection of the old 
Jacksonian dislikerdf spe5alistsand experts. Here is a characteristic 
assertion abotiTTKe~~equai competence <5f the common man (in this 
case the common woman) and the supposed experts, written by the 
amateur economist, Frank Chodorov, author of The Income Tax: The 
Root of All Evil, and one of the most engaging of the right-wing 
spokesmen: 6 

A parcel of eminent economists, called into consultation by the 
Rockefeller Brothers Fund to diagnose the national ailment known 
as recession, came up with a prescription that, though slightly con 
densed, covered the better part of two pages in The New York 
Times. The prominence of these doctors makes it presumptuous 
for one who has not "majored" in economics to examine the in 
gredients of their curative concoction. Yet the fact is that all of 
us are economists by necessity, since all of us are engaged in 
making a living, which is what economics is all about. Any literate 
housewife, endowed with a modicum of common sense, should be 
able to evaluate the specifics in the prescription, provided these 
are extracted from the verbiage in which they are clothed. 

Exhibit H. Although the following may well be considered by dis 
criminating readers as anti-cultural rather than anti-intellectual, I can 
not omit some remarks by Congressman George Dondero of Michigan, 
long a vigilant crusader against Communism in the schools and against 
cubism, expressionism, surrealism, dadaism, futurism, and other move 
ments in art: 7 

The art of the isms, the weapon of the Russian Revolution, is 
the art which has been transplanted to America, and today, hav 
ing infiltrated and saturated many of our art centers, threatens 
to overawe, override and overpower the fine art of our tradition 
and inheritance. So-called modern or contemporary art in our 

6 "Shake Well before Using," National Review, VoL V (June 7, 1958), p. 544* 
T Congressional Record, 8ist Congress, ist session, p. 11584 (August 16, 1949); 
also Dondero s address on "Communism in Our Schools/* Congressional Rec- 
Congress, and session, pp. A, 3516-18 (June 14, 1946), and his speech, 
ist Conspiracy in Art Threatens American Museums/ Congressional 
&KLd Congress, and session, pp, #433-7 ( March 17, 1952 ) . 

1 5 Anti-intellectualism in Our Time 

own beloved country contains all the isms of depravity, deca 
dence, and destruction. . 

All these isms are of foreign origin, and truly should have no 
place in American art. ... All are instruments and weapons of 

Exhibit I. Since I shall have much to say in these pages about anti- 
intellectualism in the evangelical tradition, it seems important to cite 
at least one survival of this tradition. These brief quotations are taken 
from the most successful evangelist of our time, Billy Graham, voted 
by the American public in a Gallup Poll of 1958 only after Eisenhower, 
Churchill, and Albert Schweitzer as "the most admired man in the 
world": 8 

Moral standards of yesterday to many individuals are no stand 
ard for today unless supported by the so-called "intellectuals/* 

I sincerely believe that partial education throughout the world 
is far worse than none at all, if we only educate the mind without 
the soul. . . . Turn that man loose upon the world [who has] no 
power higher than his own, he is a monstrosity, he is but halfway 
educated, and is more dangerous than though he were not edu 
cated at all. 

You can stick a public school and a university in the middle of 
every block of every city in America and you will never keep 
America from rotting morally by mere intellectual education. 

During the past few years the intellectual props have been 
knocked out from under the theories of men. Even the average 
university professor is willing to listen to the voice of the preacher. 

[In place of the Bible] we substituted reason, rationalism, mind 
culture, science worship, the working power of government, 
Freudianism, naturalism, humanism, behaviorism, positivism, ma 
terialism, and idealism. [This is the work of] so-called intellec 
tuals. Thousands of these "intellectuals" have publicly stated that 
morality is relative that there is no norm or absolute stand 
ard. . . . 

Exhibit J. In the post-Sputnik furor over American education, one of 
the most criticized school systems was that of California, which had 
been notable for its experimentation with curricula. When the San 
Francisco School District commissioned a number of professional 

8 William G. McLcmghlin, Jr.; Billy Graham: Revivalist in a Secular Age (New 
York, 1960), pp. 89, 212, 213; on the Gallup Poll, seep. 5. 


scholars to examine their schools, the committee constituted for this 
purpose urged a return to firmer academic standards. Six educational 
organizations produced a sharp counterattack in which they criticized 
the authors of the San Francisco report for "academic pettiness and 
snobbery" and for going beyond their competence in limiting the pur 
poses of education to "informing the mind and developing the in 
telligence/ and reasserted the value of "other goals of education, such 
as preparation for citizenship, occupational competence, successful 
family life, self-realization in ethical, moral, aesthetic and spiritual 
dimensions, and the enjoyment of physical health." The educationists 
argued that an especially praiseworthy feature of American education 
had been 9 

the attempt to avoid a highly rigid system of education. To do so 
does not mean that academic competence is not regarded as 
highly important to any society, but it does recognize that his 
torically, education systems which stress absorption of accumu 
lated knowledge for its own sake have tended to produce 
decadence. Those who would "fix" the curriculum and freeze edu 
cational purpose misunderstand the unique function of education 
in American democracy. 

Exhibit K. The following is an excerpt from a parent s report, originally 
written in answer to a teacher s complaint about the lax standards in 
contemporary education. The entire piece is worth reading as a vivid 
statement by a parent who identifies wholly with the non-academic 
child and the newer education. As we shall see, the stereotype of the 
schoolteacher expressed here has deep historical roots. 1 

But kindergarten teachers understand children. Theirs is a 
child-centered program. School days were one continuous joy of 
games and music and colors and friendliness. Life rolled mer 
rily along through the first grade, the second grade, the third 
grade . . . then came arithmetic! Failure like a spectre arose to 
haunt our days and harass our nights. Father and mother began 
to attend lectures on psychology and to read about inferiority 
complexes. We dragged through the fourth grade and into the 

9 Judging and Improving the Schools: Current Issues ( Burlingame, California, 
1960), pp. 4, 5, 7, 8; italics added. The document under fire was William C, 
Bark et al.: Report of the San Francisco Curriculum Survey Committee (San 
Francisco, 1960). 

1 Robert E, Brownlee: "A Parent Speaks Out," Progressive Education, Vol. 
XVII (October, 1940), pp. 42,041. 

17 Anti-intellectualisrn, in Our Time 

fifth. Something had to be done. Even father couldn t solve all the 
problems. I decided to have a talk with the teacher. 

There was no welcome on the mat of that school. No one 
greeted the stranger or made note of his coming. A somber hall 
way presented itself, punctuated at regular intervals by closed 
doors. Unfamiliar sounds came from within. I inquired my way 
of a hurrying youngster and then knocked at the forbidding 
threshold. To the teacher I announced my name, smiling as 
pleasantly as I could. "Oh, yes," she said, as if my business were 
already known to her and reached for her classbook, quick on 
the draw like a movie gangster clutching for his gun. 

The names of the pupils appeared on a ruled page in neat and 
alphabetical precision. The teacher moved a bloodless finger down 
the margin of the page to my daughter s name. After each name 
were little squares. In the squares were little marks, symbols that 
I did not understand. Her finger moved across the page. My child s 
marks were not the same as those of the other children. She 
looked up triumphantly as if there were nothing more to be said. 

1 was thinking of the small compass into which she had com 
pressed the total activities of a very lively youngster. I was in 
terested in a whole life, a whole personality; the teacher, merely 
in arithmetical ability. I wished I had not come. I left uninformed 
and uncomf orted. 

Exhibit L. The following remarks have already been made famous by 
Arthur Bestor, but they will bear repetition. After delivering and pub 
lishing the address excerpted here, the author, a junior high-school 
principal in Illinois, did not lose caste in his trade but was engaged 
for a similar position in Great Neck, Long Island, a post which surely 
ranks high in desirability among the nation s secondary schools, and 
was subsequently invited to be a visiting member of the faculty of the 
school of education of a Midwestern university. 2 

Through the years we ve built a sort of halo around reading, 
writing, and arithmetic. WeVe said they were for everybody . . . 
rich and poor, brilliant and not-so-mentally-endowed, ones who 

2 A. H. Lauchner: "How Can the Junior High School Curriculum Be Improved?" 
Bulletin of the National Association of Secondary-School Principals, Vol. XXXV 
(March, 1951), pp. 299-301. The three dots of elision here do not indicate omis 
sions but are the author s punctuation. The address was delivered at a meeting of 
this association. See Arthur Bestor s comments in The Restoration of Learning 
( New York, 1955 ) > P- 54- 


liked them and those who failed to go for them. Teacher has said 
that these were something "everyone should learn." The principal 
has remarked, "All educated people know how to -write, spell, 
and read." When some child declared a dislike for a sacred sub 
ject, he was warned that, if he failed to master it, he would 
grow up to be a so-and-so. 

The Three R s for All Children, and All Children for the Three 
R*s! That was it. 

We ve made some progress in getting rid of that slogan. But 
every now and then some mother with a Phi Beta Kappa award 
or some employer who has hired a girl who can t spell stirs up a 
fuss about the schools . . . and ground is lost. . . . 

When -we come to the realization that not every child has to 
read, figure, write and spell . . . that many of them either can 
not or will not master these chores . . . then we shall be on the 
road to improving the junior high curriculum. 

Between this day and that a lot of selling must take place. 
But it s coming. We shall some day accept the thought that it is 
just as illogical to assume that every boy must be able to read as 
it is that each one must be able to perform on a violin, that it is 
no more reasonable to require that each girl shall spell well than 
it is that each one shall bake a good cherry pie. 

We cannot all do the same things. We do not like to do the 
same things. And we won t. When adults finally realize that fact, 
everyone will be happier . . , and schools will be nicer places in 
which to live. . . . 

If and when we are able to convince a few folks that mastery 
of reading, writing, and arithmetic is not the one road leading to 
happy, successful living, the next step is to cut down the amount 
of time and attention devoted to these areas in general junior 
high-school courses. * . * 

One junior high in the East has, after long and careful study, 
accepted the fact that some twenty percent of their students will 
not be up to standard in reading , * . and they are doing other 
things for these boys and girls. That s straight thinking, Contrast 
that with the junior high which says, "Every student must know 
the multiplication tables before graduation.* 

These exhibits, though their sources and intentions are various, col 
lectivity display the ideal assumptions of anti-intellectualism- Intel- 

*9 Anti-intellectualism in Our Time 

lectuals, it may be held, are pretentious, conceited, effeminate, and 
snobbish; and very likely immoral, dangerous, and subversive. The 
plain sense of the common man, especially i tested by success in some 
demanding line of practical work, is an altogether adequate substitute 
for, if not actually much superior to, formal knowledge and expertise 
acquired in the schools. Not surprisingly, institutions in which intel 
lectuals tend to be influential, like universities and colleges, are rotten 
to the core. In any case, the discipline of the heart, and the old- 
fashioned principles of religion and morality, are more reliable guides 
to life than an education which aims to produce minds responsive to 
new trends in thought and art. Even at the level of elementary educa 
tion, a schooling that puts too much stress on the acquisition of mere 
knowledge, as opposed to the vigorous development of physical and 
emotional life, is heartless in its mode of conduct and threatens to 
produce social decadence. 

* 4 

To avoid some hazards to understanding, it is perhaps necessary to say 
that a work given single-mindedly to the exploration of such a theme* 
as this must inevitably have the effect of highlighting its importance in 
a way that would not be warranted in a comprehensive history of 
American culture. I can only say that I do not suffer from the delusion 
that the complexities of American history can be satisfactorily reduced 
to a running battle between the eggheads and the fatheads. Moreover, 
to the extent that our history can be considered one of cultural and 
intellectual conflicts, the public is not simply divided into intellectual 
and anti-intellectual factions. The greater part of the public, and a 
great part even of the intelligent and alert public, is simply non- 
intellectual; it is infused with enough ambivalence about intellect and 
intellectuals to be swayed now this way and now that on current cul 
tural issues. It has an ingrained distrust of eggheads, but also a gen 
uine yearning for enlightenment and culture. Moreover, a book on 
anti-intellectualism in America can hardly be taken as though it were 
meant to be a balanced assessment of our culture, any more than a 
history of bankruptcies could be taken as a full history of our business 
life. Although I am convinced that anti-intellectualism is pervasive in 
our culture, I believe that it can rarely be called dominant. Again and 
again I have noticed, as I hope readers will, that the more mild and 
benign forms of anti-intellectualism prove to be the most widespread, 

21 Anti-intellectualism in Our Time 

and sins of the flesh, the Churqh itself remains holy. Even here, how 
ever, I do not forget that intellect itself can be overvalued, and that 
reasonable attempts to set it in its proper place in human affairs 
should not be called anti-intellectual. One does not care to dissent 
when T. S. Eliot observes that "intellectual ability without the more 
human attributes is admirable only in the same way as the brilliance 
of a child chess prodigy/ 4 But in a world full of dangers, the danger 
that American society as a whole will overesteem intellect or assign 
it such a transcendent value as to displace other legitimate values is 
one that need hardly trouble us. 

Possibly the greatest hazard of this venture is that of encouraging 
the notion that anti-intellectualism is commonly found in a pure or 
unmixed state. It seems clear that those who have some quarrel with 
intellect are almost always ambivalent about it: they mix respect and 
awe with suspicion and resentment; and this has been true in many 
societies and phases of human history. In any case, anti-intellectualism 
is not the creation of people who are categorically hostile to ideas. 
Quite the contrary: just as the most effective enemy of the educated 
man may be the half -educated man, so the leading anti-intellectuals 
are usually men deeply engaged with ideas, often obsessively engaged 
with this or that outworn or rejected idea. Few intellectuals are without 
moments of anti-intellectualism; few anti-intellectuals without single- 
minded intellectual passions. In so far as anti-intellectualism becomes 
articulate enough to be traced historically or widespread enough to 
make itself felt in contemporary controversy, it has to have spokesmen 
who are at least to some degree competent. These spokesmen are in 
the main neither the uneducated nor the unintellectual, but rather the 
marginal intellectuals, would-be intellectuals, unfrocked or embittered 
intellectuals, the literate leaders of the semi-literate, full of seriousness 
and high purpose about the causes that bring them to the attention of 
the world. I have found anti-intellectual leaders who were evangelical 
ministers, many of them highly intelligent and some even learned; 
fundamentalists, articulate about their theology; politicians, including 
some of the shrewdest; businessmen or other spokesmen of the practi 
cal demands of American culture; right-wing editors of strong in 
tellectual pretensions and convictions; various marginal writers (vide 
the anti-intellectualism of the Beatniks ) ; anti-Communist pundits, of 
fended by the past heresies of a large segment of the intellectual com 
munity; and, for that matter, Communist leaders, who had much use 

* Notes towards the Definition of Culture (London, 1948), p. 23. 


whereas the most malign forms are found mainly among small if 
vociferous minority groups. Again, this is not, as it perhaps should be, a 
comparative study: my concentration on anti-intellectualism in the 
United States is no more than the result of a special, and possibly 
parochial, interest in American society. I do not assume that anti- 
intellectualism does not exist elsewhere. I think that it is a problem of 
more than ordinary acuteness here, but I believe it has been present 
in some form and degree in most societies; in one it takes the form 
of the administering of hemlock, in another of town-and-gown riots, in 
another of censorship and regimentation, in still another of Congres 
sional investigations. I am disposed to believe that anti-intellectualism, 
though it has its own universality, may be considered a part of our 
English cultural inheritance, and that it is notably strong in Anglo- 
American experience. A few years ago Leonard Woolf remarked that 
"no people has ever despised and distrusted the intellect and intellec 
tuals more than the British/ 3 Perhaps Mr. Woolf had not given 
sufficient thought to the claims of the Americans to supremacy in this 
respect (which is understandable, since the British have been tired 
for more than a century of American boasting); but that a British 
intellectual so long seasoned and so well informed on the cultural life 
of his own country could have made such a remark may well give us 
pause. Although the situation of American intellectuals poses problems 
of special urgency and poignancy, many of their woes are the common 
experiences of intellectuals elsewhere, and there are some compensat 
ing circumstances in American life. 

This book is a critical inquiry, not a legal brief for the intellectuals 
against the American community. I have no desire to encourage the 
self-pity to which intellectuals are sometimes prone by suggesting 
that they have been vessels of pure virtue set down in Babylon. One 
does not need to assert this, or to assert that intellectuals should get 
sweeping indulgence or exercise great power, in order to insist that 
respect for intellect and its functions is important to the culture and 
the health of any society, and that in ours this respect has often been 
notably lacking. No one who lives among intellectuals is likely to 
idealize them unduly; but their relation as fallible persons to the vital 
function of intellect should remind us of the wisdom of the Church, 
which holds that although the priesthood is vulnerable to the errors 

5 "G, E, Moore," Encounter, Vol. XII (January, 1959), p. 68; the context, it 
should be said, suggests that Woolf was quite aware of the necessary qualifications 
to tibia temark* 


for intellectuals when they could use them, but the utmost contempt 
for what intellectuals are concerned with. The hostility so prominent 
in the temper of these men is not directed against ideas as such, not 
even in every case against intellectuals as such. The spokesmen of 
anti-intellectualism are almost always devoted to some ideas, and 
much as they may hate the regnant intellectuals among their living 
contemporaries, they may be devotees of some intellectuals long dead 
Adam Smith perhaps, or Thomas Aquinas, or John Calvin, or even 
Karl Marx. 

It would also be mistaken, as well as uncharitable, to imagine that 
the men and women who from time to time carry the banners of anti- 
intellectualism are of necessity committed to it as though it were a 
positive creed or a kind of principle. In fact, anti-intellectualism is 
usually the incidental consequence of some other intention, often some 
justifiable intention. Hardly anyone believes himself to be against 
thought and culture. Men do not rise in the morning, grin at them 
selves in their mirrors, and say: "Ah, today I shall torment an in 
tellectual and strangle an idea!" Only rarely, and with the gravest of 
misgivings, then, can we designate an individual as being constitu 
tionally anti-intellectual. In any case, it would be of little value in 
this enterprise and certainly it is no concern of mine to classify or 
stigmatize individuals; what is important is to estimate the historical 
tendency of certain attitudes, movements, and ideas. 5 With respect to 
these, some individuals will appear now on one side and now on an 
other. In fact, anti-intellectualism is often characteristic of forces dia 
metrically opposed to each other. Businessmen and labor leaders may 
have views of the intellectual class which are surprisingly similar. 
Again, progressive education has had its own. strong anti-intellectual 
element, and yet its harshest and most determined foes, who are right- 
wing vigilantes, manifest their own anti-intellectualism, which is, 
though different in style, less equivocal and more militant. 

To be confronted with a simple and unqualified evil is no doubt a 
kind of luxury; but such is not the case here; and if anti-intellectualism 
has become, as I believe it has 3 ^ Jbgogjfl^^ quality jr^ our 

civilization, it has become so because it has often been linked to good, 
or at least defensible, causes. It first got its strong grip on our ways 
of thinking because it was fostered by axx evangelical religion that 

5 As a case in point, I have found it desirable to discuss the anti-intellectual 
iaoplications and the anti-intellectual consequences of some educational theories of 
Toinn Dewey; but it would be absurd and impertinent to say, on *V*g account, that 
M^Rrey was an anti-intellectual. 

23 Antt-inteUectualism in Our Time 

also purveyed many humane and democratic sentiments. It made its 
way into our politics because it became ^ assocaated^sg&jQur, passion 
for equality- It has become formidableia our education partly because 
our educational beliefs are evangelically egalitarian. Hence, as far as 
possible, our ajitLloteUectaalism must be excised from the^ benevolent 
indulges upon which it livesjbyjconstant and delicate acts of intellec 
tual surgery which spare these impulses themselves- Only in this way 
can anti-intellectualism be checked and contained; I do not say elimi 
nated altogether, for I believe not only that this is beyond our powers 
but also that an unbridled passion for the total elimination of this or 
that evil can be as dangerous as any of the delusions of our time. 

[ 24 I 


On the Unpopularity 
of Intellect 


BEFORE attempting to estimate the qualities in our society that 
make intellect unpopular, it seems necessary to say something about 
what intellect is usually understood to be. When one hopes to under 
stand a common prejudice., common usage provides a good place to 
begin. Anyone who scans popular American writing with this interest 
in mind will be struck by the manifest difference between the idea of 
intellect and the idea of intelligence. The first is frequently used as a 
kind of epithet, the second never. No one questions the value of in 
telligence; as an abstract quality it is universally esteemed, and indi 
viduals who seem to have it in exceptional degree are highly re 
garded. The man of intelligence is always praised; the man of in 
tellect is sometimes also praised, especially when it is believed that 
intellect involves intelligence, but he is also often looked upon with 
resentment or suspicion. It is he, and not the intelligent man, who may 
be called unreliable, superfluous, immoral, or subversive; sometimes he 
is even said to be, for all his intellect, unintelligent. 1 

Although the difference between the qualities of intelligence and 
intellect is more often assumed than defined, the context of popular 

1 1 do not want to suggest that this distinction is made only in the United States, 
since it seems to be common wherever there is a class that finds intellectuals a 
nuisance and yet does not want to throw overboard its own claims to intelligence. 
Thus, in France, after the intellectuals had emerged as a kind of social force, one 
finds Maurice Barres writing in zgoa: "I d rather be intelligent than an intel 
lectual." Victor Brombert: The Intellectual Hero: Studies in the French Novel, 
1880-1955 (Philadelphia, 1961), p. 25. 

s&5 On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

usage makes it possible to extract the nub of the distinction, which 
seems to be almost universally understood: intelligence J^an excel 
lence^ of mind that is employed within a fairly narrow, immediate, 
and predictable range; it is a manipulative, adfustive, unfailingly prac 
tical quality one of the most eminent and endearing of the animal 
virtues. Intelligence works within the framework of limited but 
clearly stated goals, and may be quick to shear away questions of 
thought that do not seem to help in reaching them. Finally, it is of 
such universal use that it can daily be seen at work and admired alike 
by simple or complex minds. 

Intellect^ on the other hand, is the critical, creative, and contem 
plative^ side of mind. Whereas intelligence seeks to grasp, manipulate, 
re-order, adjust, intellect examines, ponders, wonders, theorizes, criti 
cizes, imagines. Intelligence will seize the immediate meaning in a 
situation and evaluate it. Intellect evaluates evaluations, and looks 
for the meanings of situations as a whole. Intelligence can be praised 
as a quality in animals; intellect, being a unique manifestation of 
human dignity, is both praised and assailed as a quality in men. 
When the difference is so defined, it becomes easier to understand 
why we sometimes say that a mind of admittedly penetrating intelli 
gence is relatively unintellectual; and why, by the same token, we 
see among minds that are unmistakably intellectual a considerable 
range of intelligence. 

This distinction may seem excessively abstract, but it is frequently 
illustrated in American culture. In our education, for example, it has 
never been doubted that the selection and development of intelligence 
is a goal of central importance; but the extent to which education 
should foster intellect has been a matter of the most heated contro 
versy, and the opponents of intellect in most spheres of public educa 
tion have exercised preponderant power. But perhaps the most im 
pressive illustration arises from a comparison of the American regard 
for inventive skill as opposed to skill in pure science. Our greatest in 
ventive genius, Thomas A. Edison, was all but canonized by the 
American public, and a legend has been built around him. One can 
not, I suppose, expect that achievements in pure science would receive 
the same public applause that came to inventions as spectacular and 
as directly influential on ordinary life as Edison s. But one might have 
expected that our greatest genius in pure science, Josiah Willard 
Gibbs, who laid the theoretical foundations for modern physical chem 
istry, would have been a figure of some comparable acclaim among 


the educated public. Yet Gibbs, whose work was celebrated in Eu 
rope, lived out his life in public and even professional obscurity at Yale, 
where he taught for thirty-two years. Yale, which led American uni 
versities in its scientific achievements during the nineteenth century, 
was unable in those thirty-two years to provide him with more than a 
half dozen or so graduate students who could understand his work, 
and never took the trouble to award him an honorary degree. 2 

A special difficulty arises when we speak of the fate of intellect in 
society; this difficulty stems from the fact that we are compelled to 
speak of intellect in vocational terms, though we may recognize that 
intellect is not simply a matter of vocation. Intellect is considered in 
general usage to be an attribute of certain professions and vocations; 
we speak of the intellectual as being a writer or a critic, a professor 
or a scientist, an editor, journalist, lawyer, clergyman, or the like. As 
Jacques Barzun has said, the intellectual is a man who carries a brief 
case. It is hardly possible to dispense with this convenience; the status 
and the role of intellectuals are bound up with the aggregate of the 
brief-case-carrying professions. But few of us believe that a member of 
a profession, even a learned profession, is necessarily an intellectual in 
any discriminating or demanding sense of the word. In most profes 
sions intellect may help, but intelligence will serve well enough with 
out it. We know, for instance, that all academic men are not intellec 
tuals; we often lament this fact. We know that there is something 
about intellect, as opposed to professionally trained intelligence, which 
does not adhere to whole vocations but only to persons. And when we 
are troubled about the position of intellect and the intellectual class 
in our society, it is not only the status of certain vocational groups 
which we have in mind, but the value attached to a certain mental 

A great deal of what might be called the journeyman s work of our 
culture the work of lawyers, editors, engineers, doctors, indeed of 
some writers and of most professors though vitally dependent upon 
ideas, is not distinctively intellectual. A man in any of the learned or 
quasi-learned professions must have command of a substantial store of 
frozen ideas to do his work; he must, if he does it well, use them in 
telligently; but in his professional capacity he uses them mainly as 

2 The situation of Gibbs is often mentioned as a consequence of American at 
titudes. For the general situation it symbolized, see Richard H. Shryock: "Ameri 
can Indifference to Basic Science during the Nineteenth Century," Archives Inter- 
toire des Sciences, No. 5 ( 1948), pp. 50-65- 

#7 On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

instruments. The heart o the matter to borrow a distinction made 
by Max Weber about politics is that the professional man lives off 
ideas, not for them. His professional role, his professional skills, do not 
make him an intellectual. He is a mental worker, a technician. He 
may happen to be an intellectual as well, but if he is, it is because he 
brings to his profession a distinctive feeling about ideas which is not 
required by his job. As a professional, he has acquired a stock of mental 
skills that are for sale. The skills are highly developed, but we do not 
think of him as being an intellectual if certain qualities are missing 
from his work disinterested intelligence, generalizing power, free 
speculation, fresh observation, creative novelty, radical criticism. At 
home he may happen to be an intellectual, but at his job he is a 
hired mental technician who uses his mind for the pursuit of ex 
ternally determined ends. It is this element the fact that ends are set 
from some interest or vantage point outside the intellectual process it 
self which characterizes both the zealot, who lives obsessively for a 
single idea, and the mental technician, whose mind is used not for 
free speculation but for a salable end. The goal here is external and 
not self-determined, whereas the intellectual life has a certain spon 
taneous character and inner determination. It has also a peculiar poise 
of its own, which I believe is established by a balance between two 
basic qualities in the intellectual s attitude toward ideas qualities 
that may be designated as playfulness and piety. 

To define -what is distinctively intellectual it is necessary to be able 
to determine what differentiates, say, a professor or a lawyer who is 
an intellectual from one who is not; or perhaps more properly, what 
enables us to say that at one moment a professor or a lawyer is 
acting in a purely routine professional fashion and at another moment 
as an intellectual. The difference is not in the character of the ideas 
with which he works but in his attitude toward them. I have suggested 
that in some sense he lives for ideas which means that he has a sense 
of dedication to the life of the mind which is very much like a religious 
commitment. This is not surprising, for in a very important way the 
role of the intellectual is inherited from the office of the cleric: it im 
plies a special sense of the ultimate value in existence of the act of 
comprehension. Socrates, when he said that the unexamined life is not 
worth living, struck the essence of it. We can hear the voices of various 
intellectuals in history repeating their awareness of this feeling, in 
accents suitable to time, place, and culture. "The proper function of 
the human race, taken in the aggregate," wrote Dante in De Mon- 


archia, "is to actualize continually the entire capacity possible to the 
intellect, primarily in speculation, then through, its extension and for 
its sake, secondarily in action." The noblest thing, and the closest pos 
sible to divinity, is thus the act of knowing. It is only a somewhat 
more secular and activist version of the same commitment which we 
hear in the first sentence of Locke s Essay Concerning Human Under 
standing: "It is the understanding that sets man above the rest of 
sensible beings, and gives him all the advantage and dominion which 
he has over them/ Hawthorne, in a passage near the end of The 
Blithedale Romance, observes that Nature s highest purpose for man is 
"that of conscious intellectual life and sensibility." Finally, in our own 
time Andre Malraux puts the question in one of his novels: "How can 
one make the best of one s life?" and answers: "By converting as wide 
a range of experience as possible into conscious thought." 

Intellectualism, though by no means confined to doubters, is often 
the sole piety of the skeptic. Some years ago a colleague asked me to 
read a brief essay he had written for students going on to do advanced 
work in his field. Its ostensible purpose was to show how the life of 
the mind could be cultivated within the framework of his own dis 
cipline, but its effect was to give an intensely personal expression to 
his dedication to intellectual work. Although it was written by a cor 
rosively skeptical mind, I felt that I was reading a piece of devotional 
literature in some ways comparable to Richard Steele s The Trades 
man s Calling or Cotton Mather s Essays to Do Good, for in it the in 
tellectual task had been conceived as a calling, much in the fashion 
of the old Protestant writers. His work was undertaken as a kind of 
devotional exercise, a personal discipline, and to think of it in this 
fashion was possible because it was more than merely workmanlike 
and professional: it was work at thinking, work done supposedly in 
the service of truth. The intellectual life has here taken on a kind of 
primary moral significance. It is this aspect of the intellectual s feeling 
about ideas that I call his piety. The intellectual is engagS he is 
pledged, committed, enlisted. What everyone else is willing to admit, 
namely that ideas and abstractions are of signal importance in human 
life, he imperatively feels. 

Of course what is involved is more than a purely personal discipline 
and more than the life of contemplation and understanding itself. For 
the life of thought, even though it may be regarded as the highest 
form of human activity, is also a medium through which other values 
are refined, reasserted, and realized in the human community. Col- 

^ 9 On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

lectively, intellectuals have often tried to serve as the moral antennae 
of the race, anticipating and if possible clarifying fundamental moral 
issues before these have forced themselves upon the public conscious 
ness. The thinker feels that he ought to be the special custodian of 
values like reason and justice which are related to his own search for 
truth, and at times he strikes out passionately as a public figure be 
cause his very identity seems to be threatened by some gross abuse. 
One thinks here of Voltaire defending the Galas family, of Zola speak 
ing out for Dreyfus, of the American intellectuals outraged at the trial 
of Sacco and Vanzetti. 

It would be unfortunate if intellectuals were alone in their concern 
for these values, and it is true that their enthusiasm has at times mis 
carried. But it is also true that intellectuals are properly more re 
sponsive to such values than others; and it is the historic glory of the 
intellectual class of the West in modern times that, of all the classes 
which could be called in any sense privileged, it has shown the largest 
and most consistent concern for the well-being of the classes which 
lie below it in the social scale. Behind the intellectual s feeling of com 
mitment is the belief that in some measure the world should be made 
responsive to his capacity for rationality, his passion for justice and 
order: out of this conviction arises much of his value to mankind and, 
equally, much of his ability to do mischief. 

The very suggestion that the intellectual has a distinctive capacity for 
mischief, however, leads to the consideration that his piety, by itself, 
is not enough. He may live for ideas, as I have said, but something 
must prevent him from living for one idea, from becoming obsessive 
or grotesque. Although there have been zealots whom we may still 
regard as intellectuals, zealotry is a defect of the breed and not of the 
essence. When one s concern for ideas, no matter how dedicated and 
sincere, reduces them to the service of some central limited precon 
ception or some wholly external end, intellect gets swallowed by 
fanaticism. If there is anything more dangerous to the life of the mind 
than having no independent commitment to ideas, it is having an 
excess of commitment to some special and constricting idea. The effect 
is as pbserv^HejB^ can 

be overwhelmed by an excess of p^ty ^vp^ndad-.^dtMn too contracted 



Piety, then, needs a counterpoise, something to prevent it from being 
exercised in an excessively rigid way; and this it has, in most intel 
lectual temperaments, in the quality I would call playfulness. We 
speak of the play of the mind; and certainly the intellectual relishes 
the play of the mind for its own sake, and finds in it one of the major 
values in life. What one thinks of here is the element of sheer delight 
in intellectual activity. Seen in this guise, intellect may be taken as the 
healthy animal spirits of the mind, which come into exercise when the 
surplus of mental energies is released from the tasks required for 
utility and mere survival. "Man is perfectly human," said Schiller, 
"only when he plays/* And it is this awareness of an available surplus 
beyond the requirements of mere existence that his maxim conveys to 
us. Veblen spoke often of the intellectual faculty as "idle curiosity" 
but this is a misnomer in so far as the curiosity of the playful mind is 
inordinately restless and active. This very restlessness and activity 
gives a distinctive cast to its view of truth and its discontent with 

Ideally, the pursuit of truth is said to be at the heart of the in 
tellectual s business, but this credits his business too much and not quite 
enough. As with the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of truth is itself 
gratifying whereas the consummation often turns out to be elusive. 
Truth captured loses its glamor; truths long known and widely be 
lieved have a way of turning false with time; easy truths are a bore, 
and too many of them become half-truths. Whatever the intellectual is 
too certain of, if he is healthily playful, he begins to find unsatisfac 
tory. The meaning of his intellectual life lies not in the possession of 
truth but in the quest for new uncertainties. Harold Rosenberg 
summed up this side of the life of the mind supremely well when he 
said that the intellectual is one who turns answers into questions. 

This element of playfulness infuses products of mind as diverse as 
Abelard s Sic et Non and a dadaist poem. But in using the terms play 
and playfulness, I do not intend to suggest any lack of seriousness; 
quite the contrary. Anyone who has watched children, or adults, at 
play will recognize that there is no contradiction between play and 
seriousness, and that some forms of play induce a measure of grave 
concentration not so readily called forth by work. And playfulness 
does not imply the absence of practicality. In American public discus 
sion one of the tests to which intellect is constantly submitted when 
it is, so to speak, on trial is this criterion of practicality. But in prin 
ciple intellect is neither practical nor impractical; it is extra-practical. 

3* On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

To the zealot overcome by his piety and to the journeyman of ideas 
concerned only with his marketable mental skills, the beginning and 
end of ideas lies in their efficacy with respect to some goal external to 
intellectual processes. The intellectual is not in the first instance con 
cerned with such goals. This is not to say that he scorns the practical: 
the intrinsic intellectual interest of many practical problems is utterly 
absorbing. Still less is it to say that he is impractical; he is simply 
concerned with something else, a quality in problems that is not de 
fined by asking whether or not they have practical purpose. The notion 
that the intellectual is inherently impractical will hardly bear analysis 
( one can think so readily of intellectuals who, like Adam Smith, Thomas 
Jefferson, Robert Owen, Walter Rathenau, or John Maynard Keynes, 
have been eminently practical in the politician s or businessman s sense 
of the term). However, practicality is not the essence of his interest 
in ideas. Acton put this view in rather an extreme form when he said: 
"I think our studies ought to be all but purposeless. They want to be 
pursued with chastity, like mathematics." 

An example of the intellectual s view of the purely practical is the 
response of James Clerk Maxwell, the mathematician and theoretical 
physicist, to the invention of the telephone. Asked to give a lecture on 
the workings of this new instrument, Maxwell began by saying how 
difficult it had been to believe, when word first came about it from 
America, that such a thing had actually been devised. But then, he 
went on, "when at last this little instrument appeared, consisting, as it 
does, of parts, every one of which is familiar to us, and capable of 
being put together by an amateur, the disappointment arising from 
its humble appearance was only partially relieved on finding that it 
was really able to talk." Perhaps, then, this regrettable appearance of 
simplicity might be redeemed by the presence somewhere of "some 
recondite physical principle, the study of which might worthily occupy 
an hour s time of an academic audience." But no; Maxwell had not 
met a single person who was unable to understand the physical proc 
esses involved, and even the science reporters for the daily press had 
almost got it right! 3 The thing was a disappointing bore; it was not 
recondite, not difficult, not profound, not complex; it was not intel 
lectually new. 

Maxwell s reaction does not seem to me to be entirely admirable. 
In looking at the telephone from the point of view of a pure scientist, 

3 W. D. Niven, ed.: The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (Cambridge, 
1890), Vol. II, p. 742. 


and not as a historian or a sociologist or even a householder, he was 
restricting the range of his fancy. Commercially, historically, humanly, 
the telephone was exciting; and its possibilities as an instrument of 
communication and even of torture surely might have opened vistas to 
the imagination. But within his self -limited sphere of concern, that of 
physics, Maxwell was speaking with a certain stubborn daring about 
the intellectual interest in the matter. For him, thinking as a physicist, 
the new instrument offered no possibilities for play. 

One may well ask if there is not a certain fatal contradiction be 
tween these two qualities of the intellectual temperament, playfulness 
and piety. Certainly there is a tension between them, but it is any 
thing but fatal: it is just one of those tensions in the human character 
that evoke a creative response. It is, in fact, the ability to compre 
hend and express not only different but opposing points of view, to 
identify imaginatively with or even to embrace within oneself contrary 
feelings and ideas that gives rise to first-rate work in all areas of 
humanistic expression and in many fields of inquiry. Human beings 
are tissues of contradictions, and the life even of the intellectual is 
not logic, to borrow from Holmes, but experience. Contemplate the in 
tellectuals of the past or those in one s neighborhood: some will come 
to mind in whom the note of playfulness is dominant; others who are 
conspicuously pious. But in most intellectuals each of these character 
istics is qualified and held in check by the other. The tensile strength 
of the thinker may be gauged by his ability to keep an equipoise 
between these two sides of his mind. At one end of the scale, an 
excess of playfulness may lead to triviality, to the dissipation of intel 
lectual energies on mere technique, to dilettantism, to the failure of 
creative effort. At the other, an excess of piety leads to rigidity, to 
fanaticism, to messianism, to ways of life which may be morally mean 
or morally magnificent but which in either case are not the ways of 
intellect. 4 

Historically, it may be useful to fancy playfulness and piety as being 

4 It was part of the indictment by Julien Benda in La Trahison de$ Clercs 
(1927) that so many modern intellectuals had given themselves over to this kind 
of messianic politics to the grave loss of intellectual values: "Today, if we mention 
Mommsen, Treitschke, Ostwald, Bruneti&re, Barren, Lemaitre, P^guy, Maurras, 
d Annunzio, Kipling, we have to admit that the clerks now exercise political pas 
sions with all the characteristics of passion the tendency to action, the thirst for 
immediate results, the exclusive preoccupation with the desired end, the scorn for 
argument, the excess, the hatred, the fixed ideas." (Translated by Hichard Alding 
ton as The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, Boston, 1955, p. 32. ) 

33 On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

the respective residues of the aristocratic and the priestly backgrounds 
of the intellectual function. The element of play seems to be rooted 
in the ethos of the leisure class, which has always been central in the 
history of creative imagination and humanistic learning. The element 
of piety is reminiscent of the priestly inheritance of the intellectuals: 
the quest for and the possession of truth was a holy office. As their 
legatee, the modern intellectual inherits the vulnerability of the aristo 
crat to the animus of puritanism and egalitarianism and the vulner 
ability of the priest to anticlericalism and popular assaults upon 
hierarchy. We need not be surprised, then, if the intellectual s position 
has rarely been comfortable in a country which is, above all others, 
the home of the democrat and the antinomian. 

It is a part of the intellectual s tragedy that the things he most values 
about himself and his work are quite unlike those society values in 
him. Society values him because he can in fact be used for a variety of 
purposes, from popular entertainment to the design of weapons. But 
it can hardly understand so well those aspects of his temperament 
which I have designated as essential to his intellectualism. His play 
fulness, in its various manifestations, is likely to seem to most men a 
perverse luxury; in the United States the play of the mind is perhaps 
the only form of play that is not looked upon with the most tender 
indulgence. His piety is likely to seem nettlesome, if not actually dan 
gerous. And neither quality is considered to contribute very much to 
the practical business of life. 

* 3 * 

I have suggested that one of the first questions asked in America about 
intellect and intellectuals concerns their practicality. One reason "why 
anti-intellectualism has changed in our time is that our sense of the 
impracticality of intellect has been transformed. During the. nineteenth 
century, when business criteria dominated American culture_&laaQst 
wih.Q^^ andwEen most business and professional men at 

tained eminence without much formal education, academic schooling 
was often said to be useless. It was assumed that schooling existed 
not to cultivate certain distinctive qualities of mind but to make per 
sonal advancement possible. For this purpose, an immediate engage 
ment with the practical tasks of life was held to be more usefully 
educative, whereas intellectual and cultural pursuits were called un- 


worldly, unmasculine, and impractical. In spite of the coarse and 
philistine rhetoric in which this contention was very often stated, it 
had a certain rude correspondence to the realities and demands of 
American life. This skepticism about formally cultivated intellect lived 
on into the twentieth century. But in our time, of course, American 
society has grown greatly in complexity and in involvement with the 
rest of the world. In most areas of life a formal training has become a 
prerequisite to success. At the same time, the complexity of modern 
life has steadily -whittled away the functions the ordinary citizen can 
intelligently and comprehendingly perform for himself. In the origi 
nal American populistic dream, the omnicompetence of the common 
man was fundamental and indispensable. It was believed that he 
could, without much special preparation, pursue the professions and 
run the government. Today he knows that he cannot even make his 
breakfast without using devices, more or less mysterious to him, which 
expertise has put at his disposal; and when he sits down to breakfast 
and looks at his morning newspaper, he reads about a whole range of 
vital and intricate issues and acknowledges, if he is candid with 
himself, that he has not acquired competence to judge most of them. 

In the practical world of affairs, then, trained intelligence has come 
to be recognized as a force of overwhelming importance. What used 
to be a jocular and usually benign ridicule of intellect and formal 
training has turned into a malign resentment of the intellectual in his 
capacity as expert. The old idea of the woolly-minded intellectual, so 
aptly caught in the stereotype of the absent-minded professor, still 
survives, of course; but today it is increasingly a wishful and rather 
wistful defense against a deep and important fear. Once the intel 
lectual was gently ridiculed because he was not needed; now he is 
fiercely resented because he is needed too much. He has become all 
too practical, all too effective. He is the object of resentment because 
of an improvement, not a decline, in his fortunes. It is not his ab- 
stractness, futility, or helplessness that makes him prominent enough 
to inspire virulent attacks, but his achievements, his influence, his real 
comfort and imagined luxury, as well as the dependence of the com 
munity upon his skills. Intellect is resented as a form of power or 

It may be said at once that what we really have in mind here is 
not so much the intellectual as the expert; that many intellectuals are 
not experts with an important role in public life and that many o 

35 On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

them do not impinge very forcefully upon the public consciousness. 5 
This is beyond argument; but my point is that tie prevailing attitude 
toward intellectuals is set largely by those intellectuals who do so 
impinge. In the main, rnf^lj^fn^g ^flEW^f tV)^ p^KljV^rnind when they 
act^jnjgne of two capacities: as experts or as ideologues. In both ca 
pacities they evoke profound, and, in a measure, legitimate, fears and 
resentments. Both intensify the prevalent sense of helplessness in our 
society, the expert by quickening the public s resentment of being the 
object of constant manipulation, the ideologue by arousing the fear of 
subversion and by heightening all the other grave psychic stresses that 
have come with modernity. 

For almost thirty years anyone even moderately informed about 
public affairs has had to become aware of the machinery through 
which the expert was making himself felt. At first, during the New 
Deal the well-publicized brain trust and all the ramifying agencies of 
control were set up to cope with the depression, and during the war 
there were the Office of Strategic Services and the Office of Scientific 
Research and Development. Today the C.I.A., the A.E.C., the Rand 
Corporation, the President s Council of Economic Advisers, and all the 
agencies that conduct research on the instruments and strategy of war 
deal with issues which are beyond the reach of the ordinary man s 
scrutiny but which can, and often do, determine his fate. A large seg 
ment of the public willingly resigns itself to political passivity in a 
world in which it cannot expect to make well-founded judgments. But 
in the management of public affairs and private business, where small 
politicians and small businessmen used to feel that most matters were 
within their control, these men have been forced, since the days of 
F.D.R., to confront better educated and more sophisticated experts, 
to their continuing frustration. Along with the general public, such 
men now take part less vitally and less knowledgeably in the making of 
important decisions; the less they understand the inner world of 
power, the more apt they are to share and arouse popular suspicions 
of the uses to which power is put. The small-town lawyers and busi- 

5 A great deal of internal discussion is heard in the intellectual community as to 
whether the development of expertise is not also dangerous for intellectuals. The 
question has been asked whether the intellectual s position as an expert does not in 
fact destroy his intellectual function by reducing him to a mere mental technician. 
See, for example, H. Stuart Hughes: "Is the Intellectual Obsolete?" in An Ap 
proach to Peace and Other Essays (New York, 1962), chapter 10. I shall return 
to this problem in my final chapter. 


nessmen who are elected to Congress cannot hope to expropriate the 
experts from their central advisory role, but they can achieve a kind 
of revenge through Congressional investigation and harassment, and, 
understandably, they carry on this task full of a sense of virtuous mis 
sion. There have been, after all, innumerable defeats and failures of 
expert-initiated policy, and these failures loom in the eyes of millions 
as the consequences not simply of human error but of cold and cynical 
manipulation, conspiracy, even treason. The public careers of Alger 
Hiss and others have given them symbols to which this feeling can be 
attached, and a few spectacular instances of demonstrated espionage 
involving scientific knowledge seem to substantiate their image of a 
world run by the power of secrets and swarming with the stealers of 
secrets. 6 

The advice of experts in the physical sciences, however suspect 
many of these experts may be, is accepted as indispensable. Expertise 
in the social sciences, on the other hand, may be rejected as gratuitous 
and foolish, if not ominous. One Congressman objected in these words 
to including the social sciences in the National Science Foundation: 7 

Outside of myself, I think everyone else thinks he is a social 
scientist. I am sure that I am not, but I think everyone else seems 
to believe that he has some particular God-given right to decide 
what other people ought to do. . . . The average American does 
not want some expert running around prying into his life and 
his personal affairs and deciding for him how he should live, and 
if the impression becomes prevalent in the Congress that this 
legislation is going to establish some sort of an organization in 
which there would be a lot of short-haired women and long-haired 
men messing into everybody s personal affairs and lives, inquiring 
whether they love their wives or do not love them and so forth, 
you are not going to get your legislation. 

From the politician s point of view, experts were irritating enough 
in the time of F.D.R., when they seemed to have free access to the 
White House while the President kept the politicians at arm s length. 
The situation has grown worse in the age of the cold war, when mat- 

6 The atmosphere in which popular politicians confront experts has been ex 
plored with much insight by Edward Shils: The Torment of Secrecy (Glencoe, 
Illinois, 1956). 

7 Testimony before a subcommittee of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign 
Commerce, House of Representatives, 79th Congress, 2nd session, May 2,8 and 29, 
1946, pp. 11, 13. 

37 On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

ters of the highest public interest are susceptible to judgment only by 
specialists. All this is the more maddening, as Edward Shils has 
pointed out, in a populistic culture which has always set a premium 
on government by the common man and through the common judg 
ment and which believes deeply in the sacred character of publicity. 
Here the politician expresses what a large part of the public feels. 
The citizen cannot cease to need or to be at the mercy of experts, but 
he can achieve a kind of revenge by ridiculing the wild-eyed profes 
sor, the irresponsible brain truster, or the mad scientist, and by ap 
plauding the politicians as they pursue the subversive teacher, the 
suspect scientist, or the allegedly treacherous foreign-policy adviser. 
There has always been in our national experience a type of mind 
which elevates hatred to a kind of creed; for this mind, group hatreds 
take a place in politics similar to the class struggle in some other mod 
ern societies. Filled with obscure and ill-directed grievances and 
frustrations, with elaborate hallucinations about secrets and con 
spiracies, groups of malcontents have found scapegoats at various times 
in Masons or abolitionists, Catholics, Mormons, or Jews, Negroes or 
immigrants, the liquor interests or the international bankers. In the 
succession of scapegoats chosen by the followers of this tradition of 
Know-Nothingism, the intelligentsia have at last in our time found a 

If some large part of the anti-intellectualism of our time stems from 
the public s shock at the constant insinuation of the intellectual as ex 
pert into public affairs, much of the sensitiveness of intellectuals to 
their reputation as a class stems from the awkward juxtaposition of 
their sacred and profane roles. In his sacred role, as prophet, scholar, 
or artist, the intellectual is hedged about by certain sanctions im 
perfectly observed and respected of course, but still effective: he has 
his privacy, perhaps his anonymity, in the interstices of modern ur 
ban civilization; he commands a certain respect for what seem to be his 
self-denying qualities; he benefits, if he is an academic, from the im 
perfectly established but operative principle of academic freedom; he 
has foundations, libraries, publishing houses, museums, as well as uni 
versities, at his service. There is a certain measured and genteel dig 
nity about his life. If, in his capacity as expert, he assumes a profane 
role by mixing in public affairs, he may be horrified to realize that, 
having become a public figure, he too is vulnerable to the low ethics 
of controversy which prevail in our politics and the low regard for 
privacy which governs our entire society. He may even forget that 


the malice and slander to winch he is exposed are not peculiarly di 
rected against him or his kind but are of the same order as almost any 
working politician of prominence may experience; even some of our 
greatest statesmen among them Jefferson, Lincoln, and Franklin D. 
Roosevelt were not immune. As Emerson once asked: "Is it not the 
first attribute and distinction of an American to be abused and slan 
dered as long as he is heard of ?" 8 

* 4 " 

Compared with the intellectual as expert, who must be accepted even 
-when he is feared, the intellectual as ideologist is an object of un 
qualified suspicion, resentment, and distrust. The expert appears as a 
threat to dominate or destroy the ordinary individual, but the ideolo 
gist is widely believed to have already destroyed a cherished American 
society. To understand the background of this belief, it is necessary 
to recall how consistently the intellectual has found himself ranged 
in politics against the right-wing mind. This is, of course, no peculiarity 
of American politics. The modern idea of the intellectuals as con 
stituting a class, as a separate social force, even the term intellectual 
itself, is identified with the idea of political and moral protest. In the 
broadest signification of the term, there have always been intellectuals, 
but until the emergence of industrial society and of a kind of market 
place for ideas, there was little sense of the separateness of the in 
tellectual life as a vocation, and relatively little need for the solidarity, 
much less for the mobilization, of the intellectuals. Thus, for all that 
they did in the mid-nineteenth century to prepare the way for the 
Revolutions of 1848, the liberation of the serfs in Russia, or of the 
slaves in America, there was still at that time no device widely in use 
in English to account for them as a group. 

The term intellectual first came into use in France. It was soon ex 
ported at the time of the Dreyfus case, when so large a part of the 
intellectual community was aroused to protest against the anti-Dreyfus 
conspiracy and became involved in an ideological holy war on the 
French reactionaries. 9 At that time the term came to be used by both 

8 Journals (Boston, 1909-1914), Vol. IX (July a.86a), p. 436. 

9 On the precursors of the term intellectual, and its early use In France, see 
Victor Bromoert: The Intellectual Hero, chapter a. The corresponding Russian 
term, intelligentsia, which came into use after the middle of the nineteenth cen 
tury, originally meant members of the free professions, but it, too, soon took on the 
connotation of an opponent of the regime. See Hugh Seton- Watson: "The Russian 

Encounter (September, 1955), pp. 4350. 

39 On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

sides by the right as a kind o insult, by the Dreyfusard intellectuals 
as a proud banner. "Let us use this word/ wrote one of them in 1898, 
"since it has received high consecration." In the following year William 
James wrote, in a letter referring to the role of the French intellec 
tuals in the Dreyfus affair: "We Intellectuals in America must all work 
to keep our precious birthright of individualism, and freedom from 
these institutions [church, army, aristocracy, royalty]. Every great in 
stitution is perforce a means of corruption whatever good it may also 
do. Only in the free personal relation is full ideality to be f ound." * It 
is significant in our own history that this early use of the term the first 
in America of which I am aware should have been made in the 
context of just such a "radical," Utopian, and anti-institutional state 
ment of purpose. At least from the Progressive era onward, the politi 
cal commitment of the majority of the intellectual leadership in the 
United States has been to causes that might be variously described as 
liberal (in the American use of that word), progressive, or radical. 2 
(Of course the American political spectrum is rather foreshortened, 
and its center lies considerably to the right of that of France, but the 
position of the intellectuals in relation to the center has been similar. ) 
I am not denying that we have had a number of conservative intel 
lectuals and even a few reactionary ones; but if there is anything that 
could be called an intellectual establishment in America, this estab 
lishment has been, though not profoundly radical (which would be 
unbecoming in an establishment), on the left side of center. And it 
has drawn the continuing and implacable resentment of the right, 
which has always liked to blur the distinction between the moderate 
progressive and the revolutionary. 

As long as the progressivism of the intellectual community remained 
more or less in harmony with a spirit of protest widely shared by the 
general public, as it did notably during the Progressive era and the 
New Deal, its vulnerability to the extreme right has been small. But 
the allegiance of a large part of the intellectual community to Com 
munism and fellow-traveling in the 1930*5 gave hostage to its right- 
wing enemies. Here it is important to do justice to a signal element of 
reality in the anti-intellectuals* case. It will not do to say that the 

1 The Letters of William James (Boston, 19^0), Vol. II, pp. 100 i. 

2 On this commitment and its effects, see Seymour M. Lipset: "American Intel 
lectuals: Their Politics and Status," Daedalus (Summer, 1959), pp. 460-86. Lipset 
has many pertinent remarks on the position of American intellectuals, but I am 
not persuaded by his argument that their status can be described, without qualifi 
cation, as high. 


vulnerability o the intellectuals on this count has already been vastly 
overexploited in right-wing propaganda; or that the extent of Com 
munist sympathies among the intellectuals of the 1930*5 has been exag 
gerated; or even that the most decisively influential intellectuals of 
the past generation were not Communists or fellow travelers. All these 
propositions are true, but the case that has been so insistently made 
against the intellectuals rests on the fact that the appeal of Commu 
nism during the 1930*8 was stronger among intellectuals than among 
any other stratum of the population; and that in a few spectacular in 
stances faith in Communism led to espionage. One must begin, I 
believe, with the awareness that the intellectual and moral incon 
sistencies of Communism and fellow-traveling not only put into the 
hands of the anti-intellectuals a powerful weapon, but that the sense 
of shame over past credulity and of guilt over past political involve 
ments induced in many intellectuals a kind of paralysis that caused 
them to be helpless in the face of the Great Inquisition of the 1950*5 
and even at times to indulge in bitter mutual recriminations. One re 
members, for example, with some pain and difficulty, that in August 
1939, on the eve of the Nazi-Soviet pact, some four hundred liberal 
intellectuals appended their signatures to a manifesto denouncing the 
"fantastic falsehood that the U.S.S.R. and the totalitarian states are 
basically alike/ and describing the Soviet Union as a "bulwark" of 
peace. This document was reproduced in the Nation the week that the 
Hitler-Stalin pact was signed. 3 Intellectuals thus caught out were not 
in the best historical, moral, or psychological position to make a vigor 
ous response to McCarthyism. 

What I believe is important, however, to anyone who hopes to un 
derstand the impulse behind American anti-intellectualism is that 
: this grievance against intellectuals as ideologues goes far beyond any 
reproaches based on actual Communism or fellow-traveling. The prac 
tical intellectuals of the New Deal Rexford Guy Tugwell is the best 
example who had nothing to do with the Communists were as ob 
jectionable as the fellow travelers. And today, when Communism has 
been reduced to a negligible quantity in American domestic life, the 
cry for a revival of this scapegoat is regularly heard in the land, and 
investigators who are unable to turn up present Communist affiliations 
have resorted to stirring up the dead husks of fellow-traveling memo 
ries or to obscuring as completely as possible the differences between 

a Sfctfion, Vol. 149 (August 19, 1939), p. aa8. 

4i On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

liberals and Communists. The truth is that the right-winger needs his 
Communists badly, and is pathetically reluctant to give them up. 4 
The real function of the Great Inquisition of the 1950*5 was not any 
thing so simply rational as to turn up spies or prevent espionage (for 
which the police agencies presumably are adequate ) or even to expose 
actual Communists, but to discharge resentments and frustrations, to 
punish, to satisfy enmities whose roots lay elsewhere than in the Com 
munist issue itself. This was why it showed such a relentless and in 
discriminate appetite for victims and why it seemed happier with re 
spectable and powerful targets than with the occasional obscure Bol 
shevik it turned up. The McCarthyist fellow travelers who announced 
that they approved of the senator s goals even though they disap 
proved of his methods missed the point: to McCarthy *s true believers 
what was really appealing about him were his methods, since his goals 
were always utterly nebulous. To them, his proliferating multiple ac 
cusations were a positive good, because they widened the net of sus 
picion and enabled it to catch many victims who were no longer, or 
had never been, Communists; his bullying was welcomed because it 
satisfied a craving for revenge and a desire to discredit the type of 
leadership the New Deal had made prominent. 

Had the Great Inquisition been directed only against Communists, 
it would have tried to be more precise and discriminating in its search 
for them: in fact, its leading practitioners seemed to care little for the 
difference between a Communist and a unicorn. Real Communists 
were usually too insignificant to warrant lengthy pursuit; McCarthy 
did not trouble himself much over an obscure radical dentist promoted 
by the army when he could use the case to strike at the army itself, 
and beyond the army at the Eisenhower administration. The inquisi 
tors were trying to give satisfaction against liberals, New Dealers, re 
formers, internationalists, intellectuals, and finally even against a Re 
publican administration that failed to reverse liberal policies. What 
was involved, above all, was a set of political hostilities in which the 
New Deal was linked to the welfare state, the welfare state to social 
ism, and socialism to Communism. In this crusade Communism was 
not the target but the weapon, and it is for this reason that so many 
of the most ardent hunters of impotent domestic Communists were 

4 This reluctance has been nowhere more candidly and ingratiatingly expressed 
than by Senator Barry Goldwater, who affirmed in July 1959: "I am not willing 
to accept the idea that there are no Communists left in this country; I think that 
if we lift enough rocks, we will find some/* Quoted by James Wechsler: Reflec 
tions of an Angry Middle-Aged Editor (New York, 1960), p. 44. 

K 42 

altogether indifferent to efforts to meet the power o international 
Communism where it really mattered in the arena of world politics. 

The deeper historical sources of the Great Inquisition are best re 
vealed by the other enthusiasms of its devotees: hatred of Franklin D. 
Roosevelt, implacable opposition to New Deal reforms, desire to banish 
or destroy the United Nations* anti-Semitism, Negrophobia, isolation 
ism, a passion for the repeal of the income tax, fear of poisoning by 
fluoridation of the water system, opposition to modernism in the 
churches. McCarthy s own expression, "twenty years of treason/ sug 
gested the long-standing grievances that were nursed by the crusaders, 
though the right-wing spokesman, Frank Chodorov, put it in better 
perspective when he said that the betrayal of the United States had 
really begun in 1913 with the passage of the income-tax amendment. 

Clearly, something more is at stake for such people than the heresies 
of the 1930*5 and the security problems of the cold Avar something 
more even than the terrible frustration of the Korean War: the Mc- 
Carthyist era brought to a head several forces engaged in a long 
standing revolt against modernity. The older America, until the 1890*5 
and in some respects until 1914, was wrapped in the security of con 
tinental isolation, village society, the Protestant denominations, and a 
flourishing industrial capitalism. But reluctantly, year by year, over 
several decades, it has been drawn into the twentieth century and 
forced to cope -with its unpleasant realities: first the incursions of cos 
mopolitanism and skepticism, then the disappearance of American iso 
lation and easy military security, the collapse of traditional capitalism 
and its supplementation by a centralized welfare state, finally the un 
relenting costs and stringencies of the Second World War, the Korean 
War, and the cold war. As a consequence, the heartland of America, 
filled with people who are often fundamentalist in religion, nativist in 
prejudice, isolationist in foreign policy, and conservative in economics, 
has constantly rumbled with an underground revolt against all these 
tormenting manifestations of our modern predicament. 

One cannot, even if one does not like their responses, altogether 
withhold one s sympathies from the plight of a people, hitherto so pre 
occupied with internal material development and in many ways so 
simple, who have been dragged away from their "normal" concerns, 
thrust into an alien and demanding world, and forced to try to learn 
so much in so short a time. Perhaps the truly remarkable thing about 
the most common American response to the modern world has been its 
patience and generosity. Within only two generations the village 

43 On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

Protestant individualist culture still so widely observable before the 
First World War was repeatedly shocked by change. It had to confront 
modernism in religion, literature, and art, relativity in morals, racial 
equality as a principle of ethics and public law, and the endless sexual 
titillation of our mass communications. In rapid succession it was 
forced to confront Darwinism {vide the Scopes trial), Freudianism, 
Marxism, and Keynesianism, and to submit in matters of politics, taste, 
and conscience to the leadership of a new kind of educated and 
cosmopolitan American. 

The intellectual as ideologist, having had a leading role in purveying 
to the country each innovation and having frequently hastened the 
country into the acceptance of change, is naturally felt to have played 
an important part in breaking the mold in which America was cast, and 
in consequence he gets more than his share of the blame. In earlier 
days, after all, it had been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies 
but to be one. As European antagonisms withered and lost their mean 
ing on American soil in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the 
new nation came to be conceived not as sharing the ideologies which 
had grown out of these antagonisms but as offering an alternative to 
them, as demonstrating that a gift for compromise and plain dealing, a 
preference for hard work and common sense, were better and more 
practical than commitments to broad and divisive abstractions. The 
great American failure, in this respect, the one capitulation to divisive 
convictions, resulted in the Civil War; and this had the effect of con 
firming the belief that it was better to live without too much faith in 
political abstractions and ideological generalities. Americans con 
tinued to congratulate themselves on their ability to get on without the 
benefit of -what are commonly called "foreign isms," just as they had 
always congratulated themselves on their ability to steer clear of Euro 
pean "corruption" and "decadence." 

But in the past few decades the American public has become pain 
fully aware that the breakdown of political and military isolation en 
tails a breakdown of intellectual isolationism, that there are at large in 
the world powerful forces called ideologies whose consequences we 
cannot escape, that millions of people are everywhere set in motion by 
convictions about colonialism, racism, nationalism, imperialism, social 
ism, communism, and fascism. In all this there is a certain irony that we 
are ill-equipped to appreciate. The original American hope for the 
world in so far as the older America thought about the world at all 
was that it might save itself by emulating the American system 


that is, by dropping formal ideologies, accepting our type of democ 
racy, applying itself to work and the arduous pursuit of happiness, and 
by f ollowing the dictates of common sense. The irony is that Americans 
now suffer as much from the victory as from the defeat of their aspira 
tions. What is it that has taken root in the world, if it is not the spirit of 
American activism, the belief that life can be made better, that 
colonial peoples can free themselves as the Americans did, that 
poverty and oppression do not have to be endured, that backward 
countries can become industrialized and enjoy a high standard of 
living, that the pursuit of happiness is everybody s business? The very 
colonial countries that belligerently reject our leadership try to follow 
our example, and the Russians themselves in the midst of their chal 
lenge to American power have not ceased to admire American indus 
trialization. But this emulation has become tinted with ideologies we 
do not recognize and has brought consequences we never anticipated. 
The American example of activism has been imitated: what we call 
the American way of life has not. 

To the most insular type of American mind it seemed that only 
peoples blinded by abstractions and dead to common sense could fail 
to see and appropriate all the virtues of the American system, and that 
some fatal complex of moral weaknesses has prevented the systems of 
foreign societies from working, not least of these being the acceptance 
of sinister ideologies. But the persistent strength of the Soviet Union, 
capped by the Sputnik and other triumphs in space, has given a rude 
shock to this confidence, for the United States is now confronted by a 
material power strong enough to pose a perpetual and indestructible 
challenge. What is more, this material power has unmistakably grown 
up under the stimulus of one of those fatal foreign isms. The American, 
so ill at ease in this strange, threatening, and seemingly gratuitous 
world of ideology, suspects the intellectual for being at home in it. The 
intellectual is even imagined to have called it into being and in a 
certain sense he has. Inevitably, he has been made to bear some share 
of the irritation of those who cannot believe that the changes of the 
twentieth century are consequences of anything but a sinister cam 
paign of manipulation and design, or at the very least of a series of 
fatally stupid errors. Perhaps it is he who has shorn us of the qualities 
upon which our former strength depended. Certainly he has become a 
figure in the world just at the time when all these unhappy changes 
have taken place. If he is not exactly guilty, he will still bear watching. 

45 On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

* 5 

To those who suspect that intellect is a subversive force in society, it 
will not do to reply that intellect is really a safe, bland, and emollient 
thing. In a certain sense the suspicions Tories and militant philistines 
are right: intellect is dangerous. Left free, there is nothing it will not 
reconsider, analyze, throw into question. 5 "Let us admit the case of the 
conservative," John Dewey once wrote. "If we once start thinking no 
one can guarantee what will be the outcome, except that many objects, 
ends and institutions will be surely doomed. Every thinker puts some 
portion of an apparently stable world in peril, and no one can wholly 
predict what will emerge in its place." 6 Further, there is no way of 
guaranteeing that an intellectual class will be discreet and restrained in 
the use of its influence; the only assurance that can be given to any 
community is that it will be far worse off if it denies the free uses of the 
power of intellect than if it permits them. To be sure, intellectuals, 
contrary to the fantasies of cultural vigilantes, are hardly ever sub 
versive of a society as a whole. But intellect is always on the move 
against something: some oppression, fraud, illusion, dogma, or interest 
is constantly falling under the scrutiny of the intellectual class and be 
coming the object of exposure, indignation, or ridicule. 

In the course of generations, those who have suffered from the opera 
tions of intellect, or who have feared or resented it, have developed a 
kind of counter-mythology about what it is and the role it plays in 
society. Those who have made their case against intellect in our time 
have not found it necessary to originate a single new argument, since 
this mythology is deeply rooted in our historical experience. The chap 
ters that follow illustrate in some detail how this mythology has grown 
and perpetuated and expressed itself in the United States. But here I 
should like to state briefly and in general terms what are the perennial 
assumptions of the anti-intellectualist case, and in what light I think 
it ought to be regarded. 

The case against intellect is founded upon a set of fictional and 
wholly abstract antagonisms. Intellect is pitted against feeling, on the 

5 And even, it appears, when not left free; witness the considerable intellectual 
underground that seems to have grown up in the Soviet Union and its Eastern 
European satellites. 

6 Characters and Events ( New York, 1929 ), p. xi. 


ground that it is somehow inconsistent with warm emotion. It is pitted 
against character, because it is widely believed that intellect stands for 
mere cleverness, which transmutes easily into the sly or the diabolical. 7 
It is pitted against practicality, since theory is held to be opposed to 
practice, and the "purely * theoretical mind is so much disesteemed. It 
is pitted against democracy, since intellect is felt to be a form of 
distinction that defies egalitarianism. Once the validity of these antago 
nisms is accepted, then the case for intellect, and by extension for the 
intellectual, is lost. Who cares to risk sacrificing warmth of emotion, 
solidity of character, practical capacity, or democratic sentiment in 
order to pay deference to a type of man who at best is deemed to be 
merely clever and at worst may even be dangerous? 

Of course the fundamental fallacy in these fictional antagonisms is 
that they are based not upon an effort to seek out the actual limits of 
intellect in human life but rather upon a simplified divorce of intellect 
from all the other human qualities with which it may be combined. 
Neither in the development of the individual character nor in the 
course of history are problems posed in such a simple or abstract 
fashion. For the same reason it would be pointless to accept the form 
in which the challenge is put and attempt to make a defense of 
intellect as against emotion or character or practicality. Intellect needs 
to be understood not as some kind of a claim against the other human 
excellences for which a fatally high price has to be paid, but rather as 
a complement to them without which they cannot be fully consum 
mated. Few rational men care to deny that the exercise of intellectual 
power is one of the fundamental manifestations of human dignity or 
that it is at the very least a legitimate end among the other legitimate 
ends of life. If mind is seen not as a threat but as a guide to emotion, if 
intellect is seen neither as a guarantee of character nor as an inevitable 
danger to it, if theory is conceived as something serviceable but not 

7 "We always preferred an ignorant bad man to a talented one," wrote B, R. 
Hall of early Indiana society, "and hence attempts were usually made to ruin the 
moral character of a smart candidate; since unhappily smartness and wickedness 
were supposed to be generally coupled, and incompetence and goodness." Bay- 
nard R. Hall: The New Purchase, or Seven and a Half Years in the Far West 
(1843; ed. Princeton, 1916), p. 170. This occurred even among the Puritans, for 
all their rationalism and intellectualism. Cf, John Cotton: "The more learned and 
witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee. . . . Take off the fond 
doting . . . upon the learning of the Jesuites, and the glorie o the Episcopacy, 
and brave estate of the Prelates. I say bee not deceived with these pompes, and 
empty shewes, and faire representations of a goodly condition before the eyes of 
flesh and blood, bee not taken with the applause of these persons." The Powring 
Outo$$ie Seven Vials ( London, 1642 ) , The Sixth Vial, pp. 39-40. 

47 On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

necessarily subordinate or inferior to practice, and if our democratic 
aspirations are defined in such realistic and defensible terms as to ad 
mit of excellence, all these supposed antagonisms lose their force. 
Posed in these rather general terms, this fact may seem obvious; but 
historically it has been obvious to all too few; and the purpose of this 
book is to trace some of the social movements in our history in which 
intellect has been dissevered from its co-ordinate place among the 
human virtues and assigned the position of a special kind of vice. 

In the first instance, anti-intellectualism must be sought out in the 
framework of our religious history. This is not simply because there is a 
constant historical tension between rationalism and the requirements 
of faith though this in itself is an enduring human problem but be 
cause the patterns of modern thought, both religious and secular, are 
prefigured in our earlier religious history. To the extent that it becomes 
accepted in any culture that religion is largely an affair of the heart 
or of the intuitive qualities of mind, and that the rational mind is 
irrelevant or worse, so far will it be believed that the rational faculties 
are barren or perhaps dangerous. And to the extent that a society is 
suspicious of a learned or professional clergy, so far will it be disposed 
to repudiate or deprive its intellectual class, whether religious or 
secular. In modern culture the evangelical movement has been the 
most powerful carrier of this kind of religious anti-intellectualism, and 
of its antinomian impulse. Of course, America is not the only society 
whose culture has been affected by evangelicalism. But in America 
religious culture has been largely shaped by the evangelical spirit, for 
here the balance of power between evangelicalism and formal religion 
was long ago overwhelmingly tipped in the direction of the former. To 
see how much this was true one need only compare the historical 
development of religion in Britain, where the Establishment was pre 
pared to absorb and domesticate a large part of the evangelical move 
ment, with that of America, where the evangelicals rapidly subverted, 
outstripped, or overwhelmed the older liturgical churches. 

Akin to the spirit of evangelicalism in its effects has been a kind of 
primitivism which has won extraordinarily wide credence in Ame^Oa 
and which requires special attention here, in part because I have ntot 
dealt with it in this book as a separate force. Primitivism has had its 
links on one side with Christianity and on another with paganism; and 
perhaps some of its pervasive appeal may be attributed to the fact that 
through primitivism one may be a Christian and enjoy the luxury of a 
touch of paganism; or, contrarywise, that the basically pagan mind may 


find in primitivism a consoling element of faith. Primitivism has dis 
played itself in some quarters as a quest for the spirit of primitive 
Christianity, but also as a demand to recover the powers of "nature" in 
man; with it one may be close to Nature or to God the difference is 
not always wholly clear. But in it there is a persistent preference for 
the "wisdom" of intuition, which is deemed to be natural or God-given, 
over rationality, which is cultivated and artificial. 

In various guises primitivism has been a constantly recurring force 
in Western history and in our own national experience. It is likely to 
become evident wherever men of the intellectual class itself are disap 
pointed with or grow suspicious of the human yield of a rationally 
ordered life or when they seek to break away from the routine or 
apathy or refinement that arise with civilization. In America primitiv 
ism has affected the thinking of many men too educated and cultivated 
to run with the frontier revivalists but sympathetic to their underlying 
distrust for civilized forms. It is visible in Transcendentalism which 
sometimes set itself up as the evangelicalism of the highbrows. 8 It is a 

8 Cf. George Ripley in his attack of 1839 on Unitarianism and the Harvard 
faculty of divinity: "I have known great and beneficial effects to arise from the 
simple exhibition of the truth of the Gospel to the heart and conscience, by 
earnest men, who trusted to the intuitive power of the soul, for the perception of 
its divinity. . . . Much as I value a sound.^ logic in its proper place, I am sure it is 
not the instrument which is mighty through God to the pulling down of the strong 
holds of sin. It may detect error; but it cannot give so much as a glimpse of the 
glory of Christ. It may refute fallacies; but it cannot bind the heart to the love of 
holiness. . . . You maintain, that extensive learning is usually requisite for those 
who would influence their fellow men on religious subjects. But Jesus certainly 
did not take this into consideration in the selection of the twelve from the mass of 
the disciples; he committed the promulgation of his religion to unlearned and 
ignorant* men; the sublimest truths were entrusted to the most common minds; and, 
in this way, God made foolish the wisdom of the world. . . . Christ . . . saw that 
the parade of wisdom, which books impart, was as nothing before the light that 
enlighteneth every human mind.* The whole course of his nation s history was an 
illustration of the fact that poor mechanics are wont to be God s great ambassadors 
to mankind.* . . . Christ established no college of Apostles; he aid not revive the 
school of the prophets which had died out; he paid no distinguished respect to 
the pride of learning; indeed, he sometimes intimates that it is an obstacle to the 
perception of truth; and thanks God, that while he has hid the mysteries of the 
kingdom of Heaven from the wise and prudent, he has made them known to men 
as ignorant as babes of the lore of the schools." "The Latest Form of Infidelity 
Examined/ Letters on the Latest Form of Infidelity (Boston, 1839), pp. 98-9, 
111, 112-13. 

The argument in this passage is similar to that commonly used by the evangeli 
cals. One begins with the hardly contestable proposition that religious faith is not, 
in the main, propagated by logic or learning. One moves on from this to the idea 
that it is best propagated ( in the judgment of Christ and on historical evidence ) 
by men who have been unlearned and ignorant. It seems to follow from this that 
ifhe kind of wisdom and truth possessed l>y such men is superior to what learned 
and cultivated minds have. In fact, learning and cultivation appear to be handicaps 

49 On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

powerful force in our historical writing from Parkman and Bancroft to 
Turner. 9 It is a persistent theme in the attitude of American writers to 
ward Indians and Negroes. It rims through the popular legend of 
frontier figures such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett down to the 
heroes of modern Western stories and detective fiction embracing all 
those lonely adventurers whose cumulative mythology caused 
D. H. Lawrence to say, in one of his harsh., luminous hyperboles, that 
the essential American soul is "hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer/* As a 
sexual mystique, it has become a powerful moving force in American 
letters, taking its most exaggerated form in recent years among those 
writers who have been impressed by the theories of Wilhelm Reich. It 
has been a force in American politics, and its effects have been visible 
in the public images of figures as diverse as Andrew Jackson, John C. 
Fremont, Theodore Roosevelt, and D wight D. Eisenhower. 

All this is hardly surprising: America was settled by men and women 
who repudiated European civilization for its oppressiveness or 
decadence, among other reasons, and who found the most striking 
thing on the American strand not in the rude social forms that were 
taking shape here but in the world of nature and of savages. The es 
cape from civilization to Arcadia, from Europe to nature, was perpet 
uated in repeated escapes from the East to the West, from the settled 
world to the frontier. Again and again the American mind turned 
fretfully against the encroachments of organized society, which were 
felt to be an effort to reimpose what had been once thrown off; for 
civilization, though it could hardly be repudiated in its entirety, was 
still believed to have something pernicious about it. 

If evangelicalism and primitivism helped to plant anti-intellectualism 
at the roots of American consciousness, a business society assured that 
it would remain in the foreground of American thinking. Since the 
time of Tocqueville it has become a commonplace among students of 
America that business activism has provided an overwhelming counter- 
in the propagation of faith. And since the propagation of faith is the most im 
portant taslc before man, those who are as "ignorant as babes" have, in the most 
fundamental virtue, greater strength than men who have addicted themselves to 
logic and learning. Accordingly, though one shrinks from a bald statement of the 
conclusion, humble ignorance is far better as a human quality than a cultivated 
mind. At bottom, this proposition, despite all the difficulties that attend it, has been 
eminently congenial both to American evangelicalism and to American democ 

9 On primitivism in Turner, see the penetrating final chapter of Henry Nash, 
Smith: Virgin Land (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1950); there are valuable 
gleanings on American primitivism in Charles L. Sanford: The Quest for Paradise 
(Urbana, Illinois, 1961). 


poise to reflection in this country. Tocqueville saw that the life of 
constant action and decision which was entailed by the democratic and 
businesslike character of American life put a premium upon rough and 
ready habits of mind, quick decision, and the prompt seizure of op 
portunities and that all this activity was not propitious for delibera 
tion, elaboration, or precision in thought. 1 

) The overwhelming demands of the task of winning a continent and 
establishing its industries drew men from pursuits -where profits and 
honors were less available. But there was more to it than this : business 
in America at its highest levels appealed not merely to greed and the 
lust for power but to the imagination; alluring to the builder, the 
gamester, and the ruler in men, it offered more sport than hunting and 
more power than politics. As Tocqueville remarked: "In democracies 
nothing is greater or more brilliant than commerce," and its devotees 
engaged in it, "not only for the sake of the profit it holds out to them, 
but for the love of the constant excitement occasioned by that pur 
suit." 2 Except in a few older communities, there were no countervail 
ing classes or sets of values no aristocracy to marry into, no formidable 
body of national aspirations outside business aspirations. Business not 
only appealed to vigorous and ambitious men but set the dominant 
standards for the rest of society, so that members of the professions 
law, medicine, schoolteaching, even the ministry aped businessmen 
and adapted the standards of their own crafts to those of business. It 
has in fact been one of the perennial complaints of intellectuals in 
America that they cannot have much rapport with the professional 
classes as such, because these have been swung into the business orbit. 
It was business, finally, that isolated and feminized culture by estab 
lishing the masculine legend that men are not concerned with the 
events of the intellectual and cultural world. Such matters were to be 
left to women all too often to the type of women of whom Edith 
Wharton said that they were so afraid to meet culture alone that they 
hunted it in packs. } 

Both our religion and our business have been touched by the per 
vasive and aggressive egalitarianism of American life, but the egali 
tarian spirit is still more effective in politics and education. 8 What we 

1 Democracy in America, Vol. II, pp. 525-6. 

2 Ibid., pp. 642-3- 

? Observers of American academia have often asked with some bitterness why 
athletic distinction is almost universally admired and encouraged whereas intel 
lectual distinction is resented. I think the resentment is in fact a kind of back- 
hanged tribute democracy pays to the importance of intellect in our affairs. Ath- 

5 1 On the Unpopularity of Intellect 

loosely call Jacksonian democracy completed the disestablishment o a 
patrician leadership that had been losing its grip for some time. At an 
early date, literature and learning were stigmatized as the prerogative 
of useless aristocracies and the argument was not pressed any the less 
firmly because a large part of the American intellectual class actually 
supported democratic causes7Q[t seemed to be the goal of the common 
man in America to build a society that would show how much could be 
done without literature and learning or rather, a society whose litera 
ture and learning would be largely limited to such elementary things 
as the common man could grasp and use. Hence., early nineteenth- 
century America was more noted for a wide range of literacy and for 
the unusual amount of information, independence, self-respect, and 
public concern possessed by the ordinary citizen than it was for the en 
couragement of first-rate science or letters or for the creation of first- 
rate universities." 1 

Again and again, but particularly in recent years, it has been noticed 
that intellect in America is resented as a land of excellence, as a claim 
to distinction, as a challenge to egalitarianism, as a quality which al 
most certainly deprives a man or woman of the common touch. The 
phenomenon is most impressive in education itself. American educa 
tion can be praised, not to say defended, on many counts; but I believe 
ours is the only educational system in the world vital segments of 
which have fallen into the hands of people who joyfully and militantly 
proclaim their hostility to intellect and their eagerness to identify with 
children who show the least intellectual promise. The final segments of 
this book, though necessarily fragmentary as history, will show how 
this educational force has been built upon widely accepted premises in 
our thinking a narrowly conceived preference for utility and "sci 
ence," a false variety of egalitarianism, and a primitivist view of the 

letic skill is recognized as being transient, special, and for most of us unimportant 
in the serious business of life; and the tribute given the athlete is considered 
to be earned because he entertains. Intellect, on the other hand, is neither 
entertaining (to most men) nor innocent; since everyone sees that it can be an 
important and permanent advantage in life, it creates against itself a kind of uni 
versal fraternity of commonplace minds. 


The Religion of 
the Heart 

t 55 1 

The Evangelical Spirit 



.HE AMERICAN mind was shaped in the mold of early modern 
Protestantism. Religion was the first arena for American intellectual 
life, and thus the first arena for an anti-intellectual impulse. Anything 
that seriously diminished the role of rationality and learning in early 
American religion would later diminish its role in secular culture. The 
feeling that ideas should ahove all be made to work, the disdain for 
doctrine and for refinements in ideas, the subordination of men of ideas 
to men of emotional power or manipulative skill are hardly innovations 
of the twentieth century; they are inheritances from American Protes 

Since some tension between the mind and the heart, between emo 
tion and intellect, is everywhere a persistent feature of Christian ex 
perience, it would be a mistake to suggest that there is anything 
distinctively American in religious anti-intellectualism. Long before 
America was discovered, the Christian community was perennially 
divided between those who believed that intellect must have a vital 
place in religion and those who believed that intellect should be sub 
ordinated to emotion, or in effect abandoned at the dictates of emo 
tion. I do not mean to say that in the New World a new or more 
virulent variety of anti-intellectualist reaction was discovered, but 
rather that under American conditions the balance between traditional 
establishments and revivalist or enthusiastic movements drastically 
shifted in favor of the latter. In consequence, the learned professional 
clergy suffered a loss of position, and the rational style of religion they 
found congenial suffered accordingly. At an early stage in its history, 
America, with its Protestant and dissenting inheritance, became the 


scene of an unusually keen local variation of this universal historical 
struggle over the character of religion; and here the forces of enthusi 
asm and revivalism won their most impressive victories. It is to certain 
peculiarities of American religious life above all to its lack of firm 
institutional establishments hospitable to intellectuals and to the com 
petitive sectarianism of its evangelical denominations that American 
anti-intellectualism owes much of its strength and pervasiveness. 
The style of a church or sect is to a great extent a function of social 
class, and the forms of worship and religious doctrine congenial to one 
social group may be uncongenial to another. The possessing classes 
have usually shown much interest in rationalizing religion and in ob 
serving highly developed liturgical forms. The disinherited classes, 
especially when unlettered, have been more moved by emotional 
religion; and emotional religion is at times animated by a revolt 
against the religious style, the liturgy, and the clergy of the upper- 
class church, which is at the same time a revolt against aristocratic 
manners and morals. 1 Lower-class religions are likely to have apoca 
lyptic or millennarian outbursts, to stress the validity of inner religious 
experience against learned and formalized religion, to simplify liturgi 
cal forms, and to reject the idea of a learned clergy, sometimes of any 
professional clergy whatsoeverj 

America, having attracted in its early days so many of Europe s 
disaffected and disinherited, became the ideal country for the 
prophets of what was then known to its critics as religious "enthusi- 
asm/\The primary impulse in enthusiasm was the feeling of direct 
personal access to God. 2 Enthusiasts did not commonly dispense with 
theological beliefs or with sacraments; but, seeking above all an inner 
conviction of communion with God, they felt little need either for 
liturgical expression or for an intellectual foundation for religious con 
viction. They felt toward intellectual instruments as they did toward 
aesthetic forms: whereas the established churches thought of art and 
music as leading the mind upward toward the divine, enthusiasts 
commonly felt them to be at best intrusions and at worst barriers to 

1 Cf. H. Richard Niebuhr: "An intellectually trained and liturgically minded 
clergy is rejected in favor of lay readers who serve the emotional needs of this 
religion (i.e., of the untutored and economically disfranchised classes) more ade 
quately and who, on the other hand, are not allied by culture and interest with 
those ruling classes whose superior manner of life is too obviously purchased at the 
expense of the poor." The Social Sources of E>enorninationalism (Meridian ed., 
1957), p. 30. 

2 I owe much in my remarks on this subject to Msgr. R. A. Knox s Enthusiasm 
(Oxford, 1950). 

57 The Evangelical Spirit 

the pure and direct action of the heart though an important excep 
tion must be made here for the value the Methodists found in 
hymnody. The enthusiasts reliance on the validity of inward experi 
ence always contained within it the threat of an anarchical sub 
jectivism, a total destruction of traditional and external religious au 

This accounts, in some measure, for the perennial tendency of 
enthusiastic religion toward sectarian division and subdivision. But 
enthusiasm did not so much eliminate authority as fragment it; there 
was always a certain authority which could be won by this or that 
preacher who had an unusual capacity to evoke the desired feeling of 
inner conviction. The authority of enthusiasm, then, tended to be 
personal and charismatic rather than institutional; the founders of 
churches which, like the Methodist, had stemmed from an enthusiastic 
source needed great organizing genius to keep their followers under a 
single institutional roof. To be sure, the stabler evangelical denomina 
tions lent no support to rampant subjectivism. They held that the 
source of true religious authority was the Bible, properly interpreted. 
But among the various denominations, conceptions of proper interpre 
tation varied from those that saw a vital role for scholarship and ra 
tional expertise down through a range of increasing enthusiasm and 
anti-intellectualism to the point at which every individual could reach 
for his Bible and reject the voice of scholarship. After the advent of 
the higher criticism, the validity of this Biblical individualism became 
a matter of life or death for fundamentalists. 

When America was still a tiny outpost of England on the fringes of 
Western civilization, movements of religious protest in the mother 
country began to display qualities that were to become prominent in 
American religion. As the English religious reformers became con 
vinced that the Reformation had not gone far enough to meet the so 
cial or spiritual demands of their followers, successive waves of Mil- 
lennarians, Anabaptists, Seekers, Ranters, and Quakers assailed the 
established order and its clergy, preached a religion of the poor, 
argued for intuition and inspiration as against learning and doctrine, 
elevated lay preachers to leadership, and rejected the professional 
clergy as "null and void and without authority." At the time of the 
Puritan revolution, the preachers of the New Model Army were un 
sparing in their anti-professional and anti-intellectual broadsides 
against the clergy, the university teachers, and the lawyers. Most 
Puritans, to be sure, were heartily in favor of an educated ministry; but 


the left-wing chaplains, in the line of the Levellers and Diggers, fol 
lowed Gerrard Winstanley s example in calling the universities "stand 
ing ponds of stinking waters/* in pointing out that a liberal education 
did nothing to make men less sinful, and in stirring the egalitarian 
passions of the poor. 3 

In America the Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, 
with their severe standards of church organization, and their formally 
organized and often highly educated clergymen, at first successfully 
controlled such leveling tendencies. But hardly had these churches 
been organized when some dissenters began to find fault with them. 
Many, especially along the Southern frontier, simply drifted away for 
a time from all church connections. Others criticized and agitated, 
especially in New England, where religious activism was a major 
principle of life. For example, before Massachusetts Bay had survived 
even its first score of years, it was badly shaken by the activities of 
Mistress Anne Hutchinson, whose hostility to the learned ministers and 
to university education aroused intense anxiety in the establishment. 4 
This unfortunate woman was persecuted in part because of her own 
courageous intransigence, but largely because the community was 
persuaded that she was thoroughly subversive. Not until the time of 
the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century did the enthusiasts 
win general major victories outside the confines of a single colony. It 
was then that they set the precedent on American shores not only for 
the repeated waves of nineteenth-century evangelicalism, but also for 
the tradition of anti-intellectualism itself, in so far as this tradition was 
carried within the matrix of religious belief. But to understand the 
Awakening, one must look at the state of the established clergy in the 

3 On the general aspects of the religion of the disinherited, see Niebuhr: op. cit., 
chapters 2, and 3. See Leo Solt s suggestive account of "Anti-Intellectualism in the 
Puritan Revolution," Church History, Vol. XXIV (December, 1956), pp. 306-16; 
and D. B. Robertson: The Religious Foundations of Leveller Democracy (New 
York, 1951 ), especially pp. 519-40. 

4 As Samuel Eliot Morison has remarked, such hostility among radical Puritans 
was "an article of faith. Sincere fanatics called the universities stews of Anti- 
Christ/ Houses of lies/ that *stink before God with the most loathsome abomina 
tion/ " Edward Johnson saw Anne Hutchinson "and her consorts mightily rayling 
against learning, pers wading all they could to take heed of being spoyled by it. 
One of her followers had said to him: "Come along with me. . . . lie bring you 
to a Woman that Preaches better Gospell then any of your black-coates that have 
been at the Ninneversity, a Woman or another kinde of spirit, who hath had many 
Revelations of things to come. ... I had rather hear such a one that speekes from 
the meere motion of the spirit, without any study at all, then any of your learned 
Scollers, although they may be fuller of Scripture." Edward Johnson: Wonder- 
Working Providence of Sions Saviour in Neu? England, ed. by J. F. Jameson (New 
York, 3,910), pp. 127-8- 

59 The Evangelical Spirit 

colonies, and here the position of the Puritan clergy is of special 
interest; for the Puritan clergy came as close to being an intellectual 
ruling class or, more properly, a class of intellectuals intimately as 
sociated with a ruling power as America has ever had. 

Like most intellectual groups, the Puritan ministry had serious faults, 
and these became dangerous when the ministers wielded power. But 
what is significant for us and it may serve as a paradigm of the 
situation of the intellectual in America is that the Puritan ministry is 
popularly remembered almost entirely for its faults, even for faults for 
which it was less culpable than the community in which it lived. It is 
significant, moreover, that this rather odious image of the Puritan 
clergy, for which the name of Cotton Mather is a byword, has domi 
nated not only our popular historical lore but also the historical think 
ing of our intellectuals. The reputation of this, the first class of Ameri 
can intellectuals, has gone down in infamy, and subsequent 
generations of intellectuals have often led the campaign against them. 
It is doubtful that any community ever had more faith in the value 
of learning and intellect than Massachusetts Bay. It was with only 
slight and pardonable exaggeration that Moses Coit Tyler wrote, in his 
history of colonial American literature: 5 

In its inception New England was not an agricultural commu 
nity, nor a manufacturing community, nor a trading community: it 
was a thinking community; an arena and mart for ideas; its char 
acteristic organ being not the hand, nor the heart, nor the pocket, 
but the brain. . . . Probably no other community of pioneers ever 
so honored study, so reverenced the symbols and instruments of 
learning. Theirs was a social structure with its corner-stone resting 
on a book. . . . Only six years after John Winthrop s arrival in 
Salem harbor, the people of Massachusetts took from their own 
treasury the fund from which to found a university; so that while 
the tree-stumps were as yet scarcely weather-browned in their 
earliest harvest fields, and before the nightly howl of the wolf had 
ceased from the outskirts of their villages, they had made arrange 
ments by which even in that wilderness their young men could at 
once enter upon the study of Aristotle and Thucydides, of Horace 

S A History of American Literature, 16071765 (Ithaca, New York: 1949), 
pp. 85-7- 


and Tacitus, and the Hebrew Bible. . . . The learned class was 
indeed an order of nobility among them. 

Among the first generation of American Puritans, men of learning 
were both numerous and honored. There was about one university- 
trained scholar, usually from Cambridge or Oxford, to every forty or 
fifty families. Puritans expected their clergy to be distinguished for 
scholarship, and during the entire colonial period all but five per cent 
of the clergymen of the New England Congregational churches had 
college degrees. These Puritan emigrants, with their reliance upon the 
Book and their wealth of scholarly leadership, founded that intellectual 
and scholarly tradition which for three centuries enabled New Eng 
land to lead the country in educational and scholarly achievement. 

It must not be imagined that the earliest generations of Harvard 
graduates were given nothing but a narrow theological education. The 
notion has become widespread that Harvard and the other colonial 
colleges were at their inception no more than theological seminaries 
and the fear expressed by the Puritan fathers of the development of an 
"illiterate ministry" seems to give support to the ides^ In fact, however, 
the Oxford and Cambridge colleges which trained the men who 
founded Harvard College had long since been thoroughly infused with 
humanist scholarship. The founding fathers of colonial education saw 
no difference between the basic education appropriate for a cleric and 
that appropriate for any other liberally educated man. The idea of a 
distinctively theological seminary is a product of modern specialism, 
sectarian competition, and of a reaction to the threat of secularism in 
the collegek Such an idea was outside their ken. They felt the need of 
learned ministers more acutely than learned men in other professions, 
but they intended their ministers to be educated side by side and in 
the same liberal curriculum with other civic leaders and men of 
affairs. As it turned out, this was precisely what happened; in Har 
vard s first two generations, only about half the graduates became 
ministers and the remainder went into secular occupations. 

Having established a learned and literary class, the Puritan com 
munity gave this class great scope for the realization of their gifts. The 
Puritan ministry was well served by the community, and it served 
the community well in return. As the country became more settled, the 
clergy found sufficient leisure to express themselves in writing; the 
productivity shown by some of them is astounding. Puritanism, as a 
religion of the Book, placed a strong emphasis upon interpretation and 

6i The Evangelical Spirit 

rational discourse and eschewed ranting emotionalism. Puritan sermons 
combined philosophy, piety, and scholarship; and it was one of the 
aims of Puritan popular education to train a laity capable of under 
standing such discourses. In the early days, at least, this seems to have 
been achieved. 

But a great deal more was achieved. In estimating the intellectual 
accomplishments of the Puritan colonists it is necessary to bear in mind 
that even in 1700, after more than seventy years of settlement, the 
population numbered only about 106,000, much of it very thinly 
spread; that Boston, the largest town, had only about 7,000 souls in 
1699; and that during the 1670*5 they were ravaged by a serious and 
costly war with the Indians in which one of every sixteen men of 
military age was killed and half their towns suffered damage. Despite 
isolation, poverty, and other handicaps, they established a college 
which graduated scores of civic leaders and ministers, and whose de 
grees soon after its founding -were accepted ad eundem gradem at 
Oxford and Cambridge. It was a college, too, where young men 
learned not merely to read and interpret the Bible and theological 
works, but to read Hesiod, Homer, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and other 
classical writers. There is every evidence that the learned class of 
Massachusetts Bay became cultivated men, interested in humane 
letters as well as theology, and that they successfully brought to the 
New World much of the best of the heritage of European civilization. 
In addition to Harvard College, their leaders established a system of 
grammar and elementary schools, a printing press, and some creditable 
libraries. The ministers produced a remarkable literature of sermons, 
histories, and verse, and, in time, a literature of political speculation 
and controversy which germinated into the political writing of the 
Revolutionary era. They laid the basis of an educational system and, 
one might add, of a community morale in matters of study which 
made New England and the New England mind distinguished in the 
history of American culture for three centuries. The clergy spread 
enlightenment as well as religion, fostered science as well as theology, 
and provided models of personal devotion to things of the mind in 
tiny villages where such examples might otherwise not have been 
seen. 6 

6 For a spirited defense and appreciation of these early cultural achievements, 
see Samuel Eliot Morison: The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England (New 
York 1956); cf. Thomas G. Wright: Literary Culture in Early New England 
(Cambridge, 1920); Kenneth Murdock: Literature and Theology in Colonial New 
England ( Cambridge, 1949 ) 


The most common modern conception of the Puritan clergy is that 
they not only shared the faults of their community but also led in its 
persecutions. This judgment needs severe qualification. It is true that 
theirs was, by the standards of the enlightened modern mind, an 
intolerant age, and that the clergy shared its intolerances, j More 
over, the clergy displayed, especially in the first generation, a weak 
ness to which intellectuals are prone at times in political affairs that 
is, they imagined that they might be able to commit an entire civil 
society to the realization of transcendent moral and religious standards, 
and that they could maintain within this society a unified and com 
manding creed. They had risked the Atlantic and the wilderness to 
show that this was possible; and of course in the end they failed, after 
having committed a number of excesses in the attempt to realize their 

But the fairest way to assess any intellectual group like the Puritan 
ministry is not to put them to the test of the most advanced standards 
of tolerance and enlightenment, but to measure them against their 
own times, the community in which they lived, and the laymen they 
served. The modern liberal mind tends to assume that, as leaders of 
the community the clergy were the prime movers in those acts, like the 
Salem witchcraft trials, which are most disturbing to our minds; and 
that the essential responsibility for the excesses of that community 
rests with them. 

The truth is more complex. The clergy were themselves not a 
homogeneous group, for with the passing of the first generation and 
the enlargement of the community they had become diversified. 7 Per 
haps the most important points of diversity were those of generation 
and of location. The older clergy, and especially those in the more 
remote rural communities, clung to the hard orthodoxies in which the 
Puritan community had begun. But by the end of the seventeenth 
century there had also arisen a group of young clergymen who were 
cosmopolitan in outlook, relatively liberal in religious tendency, and 
conversant with the latest intellectual influences from Europe. Most of 
these ministered to the growing towns of the seaboard. 

There is ample evidence that, as an intellectual class, the members 
of the more learned and more cosmopolitan clergy (which includes 
such men as Increase and Cotton Mather) earned their privileged 
position. Their leadership was far from fully effective or controlling; 

7 On the state of the clergy during the period 1680-1725, see Clifford K. 
Shipton: "The New England Clergy of the Glacial Age/" Colonial Society of 
"Publications, Vol. XXXII (Boston, 1937), pp. 34-54. 

6a The Evangelical Spirit 

but such influence as they had they used to encourage greater toler 
ance, a broader pursuit of learning., the cultivation of science, and the 
restraint of some of the bigoted tendencies of the leading country 
laymen, the public, and the less enlightened clergy. By the close of the 
seventeenth century, the leading clergymen were much more liberal 
in thought than the elderly uneducated laymen who controlled a great 
many of the rural congregations or the provincial politicians who often 
invoked religious fundamentalism because it was popular with the 
growing electorate. 

After 1680, the Puritan ministry was more tolerant and more ac 
commodating to dissenters such as Baptists and Quakers than was 
the Boston public at large; and the influential Boston ministers 
including the Mathers were more liberal in this respect than the 
older preachers in the countryside. While the cosmopolitan clerics 
were importing the latest latitudinariarj. books from England and year 
by year making more departures from the harsher traditions of 
Calvinism, leading laymen were often resisting these changes. So far as 
the encouragement of science is concerned, this was almost entirely in 
clerical sponsorship before about the middle of the eighteenth cen 
tury (Harvard had its first lay scientist in Professor John Winthrop, 
who began to teach in 1738 ) . In the most controversial and stirring of 
all scientific questions of the day, that of the adoption of inoculation 
for smallpox, outstanding clerical intellectuals once again took the 
lead in defending innovation. Not least of them was Cotton Mather, 
who held to his position even though a bomb was thrown into his 
study by anti-inoculation agitators. Even with respect to the much- 
mooted witchcraft trials, the record of the clergy, though mixed, is 
better than that of the lay judges and the public. Most of the clerics 
gave credence to the idea of witchcraft itself as did some of the 
distinguished minds of the Western world but they were strongly 
opposed to the extremely loose criteria of evidence that were admitted 
in the terrible Salem trials, and many clerics exercised a restraining 
influence. 8 

Toward the end of the seventeenth century, certain strains were 

8 After the first hanging had taken place and when many suspects were await 
ing trial, a group of clergymen wrote to the governor and council pointing to the 
"need of a very critical and Exquisite Caution, lest by too much Credulity for 
Things received only on the Devils Authority, there be a Door opened for a long 
Train of miserable Consequences .** When the lay authorities ignored this protest 
and went on accepting what was called "spectral evidence against suspects, 
leading ministers continued to complain, and fourteen of them petitioned Governor 
Phips. At their insistence Phips began to call a halt to the proceedings. Shipton: 
"The New England Clergy," p. 42. 


already evident in Puritan religions sensibility which affected the lives 
and the position of the ministry^ Puritanism had always required a 
delicate balance between intellect^which was esteemed as essential to 
true religion in New England, and emotion, which was necessary to 
the strength and durability of Puritan pietyt This balance proved to 
be precarious, and there developed a tendency toward a split in the 
religious community itself. One side of the church tended to be socially 
correct, and sophisticated, liberal, and latitudinarian in its intellectual 
outlook, but religiously cold and formal. The other side, which was to 
prove vulnerable to revivalism, was moved both by ideas and by 
religious fervor; but its partisans, in their most fervent moments, 
turned antinomian and anti-intellectual. Jonathan Edwards stood out 
almost alone among the leading clergymen as exemplifying the old 
intellectualism and piety of New England and combining with them 
the ability to deal creatively with new ideas. By the middle of the 
eighteenth century, the religion of New England, like that of the other 
colonies, was ripe for an awakening that would have profound conse 
quences for the position of the learned clergy. 

* 3 

The first major episode in which the educated clergy was roundly 
repudiated came during the Great Awakening of the mid-eighteenth 
century. These religious revivals, to be sure, did not have an un 
ambiguously bad effect on intellect and learning; but they set an im 
portant precedent for later attacks upon the learned clergy and for 
movements to make religion less formal and its leadership less pro 

The American Awakening was a counterpart of similar religious 
changes in Europe, notably the rise of German pietism and English 
Methodism, but America was especially ripe for religious reawaken 
ing. Large numbers of Americans either were dissenters Baptists, for 
instance, living restively under established Anglican or Congregational 
churches or were unchurched, without affiliations or the habit of 
church attendance. The population had moved beyond the reach of 
the ministry, either geographically or spiritually. In some areas, notably 
in Virginia, a large portion of the Anglican clergy was especially re 
mote and ineffective. Even the religion of New England had cooled. 
By the 1730 $ and 1740 $ the Congregational churches of New England 
(and often the Presbyterian churches of the Middle Colonies and 

65 The Evangelical Spirit 

elsewhere ) had lost much of their pristine morale and had settled into 
dull repositories of the correct faith of the established classes. Abstract 
and highly intellectual in their traditions, they had lost the power to 
grip simple people; the Reformation controversies out of which the 
doctrinal commitments of these churches had grown had lost much of 
their meaning. 9 The zealots of the first Puritan generation and their 
well-schooled sons had long since gone to their graves. The ministers 
themselves had lost much of the drive, and therefore the prestige, of 
their earlier days. They were highly civilized, often versatile men; 
but they were in some cases too civilized, too versatile, too worldly, to 
play anything like their original role. Their sermons, attended by 
sleepy congregations, were often dull and abstruse exercises in old 
dogmatic controversies. As the Awakener, George Whitefield, said, 
"the reason why Congregations have been so dead is because dead 
Men preach to them." * From Massachusetts southward to Virginia and 
beyond, the latent religious energies of the people thus lay ready for 
ny preacher who had the skill to reach them. 

The Great Awakenings began in 1720, when the members of the 
Dutch Reformed Church in New Jersey began to be aroused by the 
sermons of a young preacher, Theodore Frelinghuysen, who had come 
to the New World inspired by English and Dutch Puritanism. His 
revival in New Jersey led to a second among the Scotch-Irish Presby 
terians of the Middle Colonies. In 1726 one of them, William Tennent, 
established at Neshaminy, Pennsylvania, his "Log College/* a sort of 
rudimentary theological school, and there, for the next twenty years, 
he trained about a score of young men to carry the revivalist spirit 
into the Presbyterian ministry. In 1734 revivalism appeared independ 
ently in New England. Jonathan Edwards, a unique figure among the 
awakening preachers, combined the old Puritan regard for doctrine 
and the Puritan custom of the written sermon with the passion and 
religious zeal of the revivalists. Edwards s revival sermons, though they 
inflamed the town of Northampton and the surrounding country dur 
ing 1734 and 1735, were limited in their reach compared with those of 
George Whitefield, an eloquent young associate of the Wesleys in 
England, who came to America on evangelistic missions in 1738 and 

9 Perry Miller has written a brilliant account of the institutional and doctrinal 
aspects of this decline in The New England Mind: from Colony to Province 
(Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1953). 

1 Quoted by Edwin Scott Gaustad: The Great Awakening in New England 
( New York, 1957 ) , p. 27. 


1739. His second campaign began in Georgia and twice brought him 
northward; he finally came to New England in the fall o 1740. 
Whitefield, who, David Garrick said, could send an audience into 
paroxysms by pronouncing "Mesopotamia/* met with a wildly enthu 
siastic response to his preaching in America. Thousands flocked from 
the countryside to the towns where he chose to talk, and great num 
bers were seized with a realization of sin and experienced spiritual 
rebirth. Whitefield s first visit to New England was followed by that of 
William Tennent s son, Gilbert, who brought the revival to a degree of 
frenzy distasteful to many persons who had welcomed the earlier 
signs of a spiritual awakening. 

Representative of the more enthusiastic antics of revivalism was the 
work of James Davenport, a Long Island minister and a graduate of 
Yale, who toured Connecticut and Massachusetts in 1742 and 1743, 
pouring such invective upon the established ministers and committing 
such other outrages upon decorum (singing, for example, on his way 
to meeting) that he fell afoul of the authorities. In the summer of 1742 
he was tried in Connecticut for breach of the peace under the guise of 
holding religious meetings, but was charitably spared graver punish 
ment than deportation from the province because he was deemed 
"disturbed in the rational Faculties of his Mind." A few months later 
he turned up in Boston, where he was jailed for slandering the 
ministers, but was again released as non compos mentis, and returned 
to Long Island to be tried for neglecting his own parish. After one 
more gaudy episode in New London, Connecticut, he was at last 
persuaded to quit, and in 1744 he wrote a somewhat inconsistent 
testimonial of repentance. The fact that Davenport was repudiated 
and sharply condemned by Gilbert Tennent, whose preachings had 
helped to unsettle him in the first place, suggests that the middle- 
of-the-road awakeners were almost as much alarmed by the barking 
and howling that the movement had unleashed as were the regular 
ministers. 2 

As for the regular ministers, at first the overwhelming majority of 
them welcomed the itinerant revivalists as agents who would bring a 
warmer spirit to the religion of their parishioners; this welcome was 
extended even by such outstanding liberal highbrows as Benjamin 
Colman of Boston. It was only after the Awakening was well under 

2 On Davenport see Gaustad: op. cit., pp. 36-41. Edwards himself, in his 
Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746), expressed at length his disap 
proval of such manifestations. 

67 The Evangelical Spirit 

way that the regular ministers began to realize that the awakeners 
did not regard them as fellow workers in a common spiritual task but 
as competitors and very inferior ones at that. 

Gilbert Tennent expressed the revivalists view of the older clergy 
(those "orthodox, Letter-learned and regular Pharisees") in a sermon 
on The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry; he attacked them as 
crafty, cruel, cold-hearted, bigoted, faithless hypocrites who held the 
people in contempt. Tennent found the motives and the piety of the 
unawakened ministers suspect, and he regarded them not as co- 
workers but as enemies. ("If they coud help it, they wo dn t let one 
faithful Man come into the Ministry; and therefore their Opposition is 
an encouraging Sign.**) Tennent s approach was hardly ingratiating, 
but he believed that he was raising a real issue, and it would be hard 
to deny that what he was advocating could be called religious 
democracy. If, under existing church organization, a congregation had 
a cold and unconverted minister, and if it was forbidden to receive an 
awakened one except -with the consent of the unconverted, how would 
the congregation ever win access to "a faithful Ministry"? 3 Like a true 
Protestant, Tennent was once again addressing himself to a major 
problem how the faith could be propagated under conditions of 
religious monopoly. To the standing ministry, the problem presented 
itself in quite another guise: how, under the conditions to which they 
were bound by inherited church principles, could they compete with 
inspired preachers like Tennent and Whitefield, if these men took it 
into their heads to treat the regular ministry as foes? 

In truth, the established ministers found it difficult to cope with the 
challenge of the awakeners. The regular ministers, living with their 
congregations year in and year out under conditions devoid of special 
religious excitement, were faced with the task of keeping alive the 
spiritual awareness of their flocks under sober everyday circumstances. 
Confronted by flaming evangelists of Whitefield s caliber, and even by 
such lesser tub-thumpers and foot-stampers as Gilbert Tennent and 
Davenport, they were at somewhat the same disadvantage as an 
aging housewife whose husband has taken up with a young hussy 
from the front line of the chorus. The revivalists, with the prominent 
exception of Edwards, who was an intellectual largely out of rapport 
with his own congregation, felt little or no necessity to work upon the 
reason of their audiences or to address themselves to knotty questions 

3 Gilbert Tennent, The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry Considered in a 
Sermon on Mark VI, 34 (Boston, 1742), PP- 2-3, 5, 7, 11-13. 


of doctrine. They dispensed (again one must except Edwards) with 
written sermons, and confronted their listeners -with the spontaneity of 
direct intercourse. They dealt directly with the ultimate realities of 
religious experience the sense of sin, the yearning for salvation, the 
hope for God s love and mercy and rarely hesitated to work upon the 
sensibilities of the audience; the fits and seizures, the shrieks and 
groans and grovelings, the occasional dementia characteristic of later 
revivalism made their appearance. Tennent, for instance, commonly 
frightened his listeners into conversions, as he stamped up and down 
and finally lapsed into incoherence. Performances like his were evi 
dently in demand; on his three-months* tour of New England, when he 
often preached in foot-deep snow, he sent his converts groveling to 
the ground. As Timothy Cutler, a rather prejudiced Anglican witness, 
reported it: "After him [Whitefield] came one Tennent a monster! 
impudent and noisy and told them all they were damned, damned, 
damned! This charmed them; and in the most dreadful winter I ever 
saw, people wallowed in snow, night and day, for the benefit of his 
beastly brayings; and many ended their days under these fatigues." 4 

Before long, it became clear that the extreme exponents of revivals 
were challenging every assumption of the settled churches, whether 
Congregational, Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian, or Anglican. The 
Congregationalists of New England, and their Presbyterian counter 
parts elsewhere, had assumed, as I have said, that ministers must be 
learned professional men. Traditionally their ministers had com 
manded respect not merely for their learning but also for their piety 
and their spiritual qualities. But learning was held to be essential be 
cause learning and the rational understanding of doctrine were con 
sidered vital to religious life. Moreover, the regular churches were 
conducted in an orderly fashion. Ministers had to be invited and com 
missioned; their relations with their congregations were stable, solemn, 
orderly marriages. Unlicensed preachers were not to be thought of, and 
uninvited preaching simply was not done. 

All these assumptions were now challenged. The most extreme 
revivalists were undermining the dignity of the profession by their 
personal conduct; they were invading and dividing the allegiances of 
the established ministers* congregations; they were trying to discredit 

4 L. Tyerman: The Life of the Rev. George Whitefield (London, 1847), Vol. II, 
p. 12.5. See Eugene E. White: "Decline of the Great Awakening in New England: 
1741 to 1746," New England Quarterly, Vol. XXIV (March, 1951), p. 37. 

6g The Evangelical Spirit 

the standing ministry by denouncing it as cold and unregenerate; 5 
many of them were preaching that not learning but the spirit was impor 
tant to salvation; and finally (despite the disapproval of some awaken- 
ers like Tennent), they were threatening to undermine the professional 
basis of the ministry by commissioning laymen lay exhorters, as they 
were called to carry on the work of conversion. Before long many 
congregations were split in two; and major denominations like the 
Congregationalists and Presbyterians were divided into quarreling fac 
tions. Plainly the thing had got out of hand. As Ezra Stiles -recalled 
nearly twenty years later: "Multitudes were seriously, soberly and 
solemnly out of their wits/ 6 


It was not long before the awakeners wore out their welcome from the 
established ministry. By 1743 the ministers themselves had fallen out 
not over such extravagances as the commissioning of laymen or the 
uninvited invading of parishes, acts which v^ere defended by no one 
of consequence, but over the meaning of the Awakening itself. A 
strong minority (perhaps as many as a third) held that, for all its 
defects, it was "a happy revival of religion," but the majority had come 
to look upon it as a fit of superstitious enthusiasm, an anti-intellectualist 
uprising against traditional and rational authority. The most extensive 
tract against the awakeners was written by one of their most in 
transigent foes, Charles Chauncy, a somewhat stuffy but liberal- 
minded leader of the Boston clergy. His Seasonable Thoughts on the 
State of Religion in New England, published in 1743, shows his out 
rage at the insolence of the upstarts from miscellaneous occupations 
who had come to challenge the ministry men totally unqualified but 
of overweening pride and assertiveness. The revivals had opened the 
door, he complained, to lay exhorters: "Men of all Occupations who are 

5 Charles Chauncy compiled a catalogue of some of the epithets Gilbert Tennent 
used against the established ministry: "Hirelings; Caterpillars; Letter-Learned 
Pharisees; Men of the craft of Foxes, and the Cruelty of Wolves; plaistered Hypo 
crites; Varlets; seed of the Serpent; foolish Builders, whom the Devil drives into the 
Ministry; dry Nurses; dead Dogs that cannot bark; blind Men; dead Men; Men 
possessed of the Devil; Rebels and Enemies of god; Guides that are Stone-blind 
and Stone deaf; children of Satan . . . murderous Hypocrites." Seasonable 
Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England (Boston, 1743 )> p- 249. Most 
of these examples appear to have been taken from Tennent s Danger of an Uncon 
verted Ministry. 

Gaustad: op. cit., p. 103. 


vain enough to think themselves fit to be Teachers of others; Men who, 
though they have no Learning, and but small Capacities, yet imagine 
they are able, and without Study too, to speak to the spiritual Profit of 
such as are willing to hear them." 7 

"Without study too"! Here we are close to one of the central issues of 
the Great Awakening. An error of "former Times * was now being 
revived, Chauncy asserted, the error of the heretics and popular 
preachers who said that "they needed no Books but the Bible." "They 
pleaded there was no Need of Learning in preaching, and that one of 
them could by the SPIRIT do better than the Minister by his Learning; 
as if the SPIRIT and Learning were Opposites." This, Chauncy 
thought, was the fundamental error of the revivalists: 8 

Their depending on the Help of the SPIRIT as to despise 
Learning. To this it is owing, that so many speak slightly of our 
Schools and Colleges; discovering a Good-Will, were it in their 
Power, to rase them to their Foundations. To the same Cause it 
may be ascribed, that such Swarms of Exhorters have appeared in 
the Land, and been admir d and run after, though many of them 
could scarce speak common Sense . . . and to the same Cause 
still it must be attributed that so many Ministers preach, not only 
without Book, but without Study; and justify their doing so, lest, 
by previous Preparation, they should stint the Spirit. 

To the exponent of a religion of the book, for whom a correct reading 
of the Bible was a vital concern, this was the ultimate heresy: that one 
who was possessed of the Spirit could, without study and without 
learning, interpret the word of God effectively enough to be an agent 
of the salvation of others. And here we have the nub of the difference 
between the awakeners and the spokesmen of establishments: 
whether it was more important to get a historically correct and rational 
understanding of the Book and hence of the word of God or to 
work up a proper emotion, a proper sense of inner conviction and of 
relation to God. 

An association of revivalist ministers put their case in these terms: 9 

That every brother that is qualified by God for the same has 
a right to preach according to the measure of faith, and that the 

7 Seasonable Thoughts, p. 2,2,6. 

8 Ibid., pp. 256-8. 

Leonard W. Labaree: "The Conservative Attitude toward the Great Awaken 
ing," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., Vol. I (October, 1944), pp. 339~4 
from Tracy: Great Awakening, p. 

71 The Evangelical Spirit 

essential qualification for preaching is wrought by the Spirit of 
God; and that the knowledge of the tongues and liberal sciences 
are not absolutely necessary; yet they are convenient, and -will 
doubtless be profitable if rightly used, but if brought in to supply 
the want of the Spirit of God, they prove a snare to those that use 
them and all that follow them. 

Conservatives found in this a complete repudiation of the role of 
learning in religion; and in the emotional kind of religion that came 
from the preaching of men so disposed, they saw the destruction of 
all rationality in religious life. "As none but rational creatures are 
capable of religion/* wrote a Southern opponent of evangelism, 1 

so there is no true religion but in the use of reason; there will 
always be these two things in the former, which the latter must 
judge of, namely the Truth and the Meaning. The virtue of our 
religion must consist in the inward persuasion of our mind, for 
if we owe our religion to birth, humor, interest, or any external 
circumstances or motive whatever, we bring all religions upon a 
level; and though by the happiness of education we should pro 
fess the true religion, yet if we do not make it our own by under 
standing the reasons for it, it will not be profitable to us; we offer 
to God the Sacrifice of Fools, in which he has no pleasure. 

Understandably, many of the conservative ministers in the affected 
colonies, who had at first expected good results for religion from the 
revivals, soon began to abhor them as a threat to their own position, to 
the churches themselves, and to all true religion. Fundamental tenets 
were being neglected, the organized ministry was being bypassed 
and traduced. Extemporized preaching threatened to dissolve all ra 
tional elements in religion, for many of the evangelists admitted that 
their preaching came by "the immediate impression of the Holy 
Ghost putting a long chain of thoughts into their minds and words into 
their mouths." Conservatives considered this bad practice even in a 
properly educated minister, but it was much more dangerous in the 
lay exhorters, who were "private persons of no education and but low 
attainment in knowledge and in the great doctrines of the Gospel/* 2 
Finally, not only had these irruptions created divisions and quarrels 
within a great many congregations, but the established ministers 

1 Quoted by Labaree: op. cit., p. 345, from South Carolina Gazette (September 

12-19, 1741)- 

2 Ibid., p, 336. 


feared that the evangelists would strike at the very source of the 
educated ministry by circumventing the colleges and the usual process 
of ministerial training. 

The fear was exaggerated, but the revivalists had tried to bully the 
colleges and at a few moments of extremism they had gone in for 
book-burning. Even the moderate Whitefield had urged that certain 
books be burned and had succeeded in persuading some of his fol 
lowers to commit them to the flames. In March 1743, James Davenport 
urged the people of New London to collect for burning their jewelry 
and objects of personal luxury, as well as books and sermons written 
by Increase Mather, Benjamin dolman, Charles Chauncy, and other 
regular ministers. And one Sunday morning a large pyre was con 
sumed on the town wharf while Davenport and his followers sang 
Gloria Patri and Hallelujah and chanted this invocation: "The smoak 
of the torments of such of the authors ... as died in the same belief, 
as when they set them out, was now ascending in hell in like manner > 
as the smoak of these books rise." 3 

The immediate effects of the Awakening on education were mixed. 
In an organization like the Presbyterian Church, manned as it was by 
many well-trained ministers from the Scottish universities, even a 
revivalist was likely to be sensitive to the charge that his work was 
hostile to learning. William Tennent trained a number of capable 
scholars at his "Log College," and his son Gilbert was not the ignorant 
lout that has often been pictured. { More important, the revivalist 
Presbyterians established the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) 
in 1746, to assure that they would have their own center of learning; 
and in time other institutions Brown, Rutgers, and Dartmouth 
were founded by men influenced by the revivals^ Only later did the 
revivalist tradition become consistently hostile to education., It must be 
added, however, that the effect of the Awakening was to subordinate 
education to religious factionalism and to consolidate the tradition of 
sectarian control of colleges?)What the ardent religious factionalists 
wanted most of all were not centers of learning, but their own instru 
ments of teaching; they pushed doctrinal and pietistic considerations 
forward, at the expense of humane learning. Even the learned 
Jonathan Edwards once attacked Harvard and Yale for failing to be 
"nurseries of piety" and for taking more pains "to teach the scholars 
human learning" than to educate them in religion. 4 ) 


8 White: op. cit., p. 44. 

4 Works (New York, 1830 ), Vol. IV, pp. 264-5. 

73 The Evangelical Spirit 

Whitefield himself, another responsible evangelist, was also dis 
satisfied with the two New England colleges. The light o these col 
leges, he complained, had become "darkness, darkness that may be 
felt/* When he returned to New England in 1744, most of the ministers 
who had opened their pulpits to him on his first visit now kept them 
resolutely closed, and the faculties of both Yale and Harvard issued 
pamphlets denouncing him, denying his charges against the colleges, 
and submitting a bill of countercharges. There is no reason to accept 
the view of some of Whitefield s more suspicious opponents that he 
intended to "vilify and subvert" the colleges of New England in order 
to overthrow its established ministers and create -wholly new ways of 
training their successors. But at a time when scores of local pastors 
were being denounced to their own congregations by awakeners as 
lacking in true piety, if not as agents of the devil, the fear of thor 
oughgoing subversion was an understandable response. 5 

The burning of books and the baiting of colleges, to be sure, were 
examples not of the characteristic behavior of the awakeners, but of 
their excesses. The awakeners had not started out to divide the 
churches, attack the colleges, or discredit intellect and learning; in so 
far as they did so, it was only to serve their fundamental purpose, 
which was to revive religion and bring souls to God. And, for all the 
tart animadversions of men like Chauncy, the anti-intellectual effects 
of the New England and Middle Colony Awakenings, taking place as 
they did within the framework of the powerful Congregational and 
Presbyterian respect for learning and rationality, were distinctly 
limited. But the Great Awakening, even in New England, revealed the 
almost uncontrollable tendency of such revivals toward extremes of 
various kinds. Opponents, with Chauncy, said that the emotional fevers 
and the anti-intellectualism of the Awakening were its essence, but 
the friends of revival thought these things were merely the incidental 
defects of a fundamentally good movement toward Christian con 
version. In the short run, and in the restrained milieu of the New 
England churches, the friends of the Awakening were probably right; 
but their opponents divined more correctly what the inner tendency 
and future direction of such revivals would be especially when 
revivalism got away from the traditions and restraints of New England 
into the great American interior. The most recent historian of the New 

5 On the reaction of the New England colleges to the Awakening, see Richard 
Hofstadter and Walter P. Metzger: The Development of Academic Freedom in the 
United States (New York, 1955), pp. 159-63. 


England Awakening, who writes of it with evident sympathy, still 
concludes that it "demonstrated the feasibility of and made fashion 
able a fervent evangelism without intellectual discipline," and ob 
serves that "the discrediting of liuman learning/ characteristic of only 
a minority during the Awakening, later became typical of a majority of 
Protestantism." 8 

There can be little doubt that the conventional judgment is right: 
by achieving a religious style congenial to the comman man and giving 
him an alternative to the establishments run by and largely for the 
comfortable classes, the Awakening quickened the democratic spirit 
in America; by telling the people that they had a right to hear the kind 
of preachers they liked and understood, even under some circum 
stances a right to preach themselves, the revivalists broke the hold of 
the establishments and heightened that assertiveness and self- 
sufficiency which visitor after visitor from abroad was later to find 
characteristic of the American people. Moreover, the impulse given to 
humanitarian causes to anti-slavery and the conversion of slaves and 
Indians must also be chalked up to the credit of the Great Awaken 
ing. There was no soul to whose welfare the good awakener was 
indifferent. But the costs ( in spite of the newly formed colleges ) to the 
cause of intellect and learning in religion must also be reckoned. The 
awakeners were not the first to disparage the virtues of mind, but they 
quickened anti-intellectualism; and they gave to American anti- 
intellectualism its first brief moment of militant success. With the 
Awakenings, the Puritan age in American religion came to an end and 
the evangelical age began. Subsequent revivals repeated in an ever 
larger theater the merits and defects of the revivals of the eighteenth 

* 5 * 

As later revivalism moved from New England and the Middle Colonies 
and from the Congregational and Presbyterian denominations out into 
the saddlebag and bear-meat country of the South and West, it be 
came more primitive, more emotional, more given to "ecstatic" mani 
festations. The preachers were less educated, less inclined to restrair 
physical responses as an instrument of conversion; and the grovelings 
jerkings, bowlings, and barkings increased. From the beginning 
Whitefield s work had been effective in the Southern colonies; th< 
6 Gaustad: op. cit., pp. 129, 139. 

75 The Evangelical Spirit 

evangelical movement, spurred by his preaching and by the overflow 
of Middle-Colony Presbyterian revivalists, spread into Virginia, North 
Carolina, and the deeper South in the 1740*5 and 1750*8. There 
revivalists found a large unchurched population; and there, where the 
rusticated Anglican clergymen sometimes went to seed, the grounds 
for an indictment of the established ministry were considerably better 
than they had been in the North. There also, because the Anglican 
establishment was linked with the upper classes, the democratic and 
dissenting implications of revivalism were sharper. In the South, 
despite the activity of such a distinguished Presbyterian preacher as 
Samuel Davies, later to be president of Princeton, a major part was 
played by Baptists and later by Methodists, groups less committed 
than the Presbyterians and Congregationalists to a learned ministry. 
There only weak obstacles stood in the way of such revival phenomena 
as unpaid itinerant ministers, laymen preaching to the people, and 
denunciations of the established clerics. 

The Southern revivalists carried the light of the gospel to a people 
who were not only unchurched but often uncivilized. The Reverend 
Charles Woodmason, an Anglican minister who traveled extensively in 
the Carolina back-country during the 1760*8 and 1770*5 left a chilling 
picture of the savagery of the life he found there and a suggestive if 
rather jaundiced record of "these roving Teachers that stir up the 
Minds of the People against the Established Church, and her Minis 
ters and make the Situation of any Gentleman extremely uneasy, 
vexatious, and disagreeable." 

Few or no Books are to be found in all this vast Country, beside 
the Assembly, Catechism, Watts Hymns, Bunyans Pilgrims Prog 
ress Russells Whitefields and Erskines Sermons. Nor do they 
delight in Historical Books or in having them read to them, as do 
our Vulgar in England, for these People despise Knowledge, and 
instead of honouring a Learned Person, or any one of Wit or 
Knowledge, be it in the Arts, Sciences, or Languages, they despise 
and 111 treat them And this Spirit prevails even among the 
Principals of this Province, 

Of the revivalist or New Light faction among the Baptists he re 
ported a few years later that they were altogether opposed to au 
thority and, having made successful assaults upon the established 
church, were now trying to destroy the state. ""The Gentlemen of the 
Law, seem now to engage their Attention: Like Straw and Tyler, of 


old [John Rackstraw and Wat Tyler of the English Peasants* Revolt of 
1 38i] ? they want for to demolish all the Learned Professions. Human 
Learning being contrary to the spirit of God." 7 

What Woodmason observed on the Carolina frontier in the eight 
eenth century was an example, somewhat exaggerated, of the condi 
tions in which the shifting population increasingly found itself. As the 
people moved westward after the Revolution, they were forever out 
running the institutions of settled society; it was impossible for 
institutions to move as fast or as constantly as the population. The 
trans-Allegheny population, which was about 100,000 in 17^0, had 
jumped to 2,250,000 thirty years later. Many families made not one but 
two or three moves in a brief span of years. Organizations dissolved; 
restraints disappeared. Churches, social bonds, and cultural institu 
tions often broke down, and they could not be reconstituted before the 
frontier families made yet another leap into the wilderness or the 
prairie. Samuel J. Mills, later one of the chief organizers of the Ameri 
can Bible Society, took two companions on Western trips during 
181215 and found community after community which had been 
settled many years but which had no schools and no churches and 
little interest in establishing either. In Kaskaskia, the capital of Illinois 
territory, they could not find a single complete Bible. 8 

John Mason Peck, the first Baptist missionary to work in the Illinois 
and Missouri region, later recalled "a specimen of the squatter race 
found on the extreme frontiers" in 1818 in an extremely primitive 
condition**: 9 

About nine o clock I found the family to which I was directed. 
As this family was a specimen of the squatter race found on the 
extreme frontiers in early times, some specific description may 
amuse the reader, for I do not think a duplicate can now [1864] 
be found within the boundaries of Missouri. The single log-cabin, 

7 Richard J. Hooker, ed. : The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolu 
tion (Chapel Hill, 1953), pp. 42,, 52-3, 113, on cultural conditions in the Southern 
back-country. See also Carl Bridenbaugh: Myths and Realities: Societies of the 
Colonial South (Baton Rouge, 1952), chapter 3. 

8 Colin B. Goodykoontz: Home Missions on the American Frontier (Caldwell, 
Idaho, 1939), pp. 13943. It was not merely Protestant denominations that suf 
fered this breakdown of religious practice in the process of migration. An Indiana 
priest wrote in 1849 of Irish immigrants in his vicinity: "They scarcely know there 
is a God; they are ashamed to attend Catechism, and when they do come they do 
not understand the instruction." Sister Mary Carol Schroeder: The Catholic Church 
in the Diocese of Vincennes, 18471877 (Washington, 1946), p. 58. 

9 Rufus Babcock, ed. : Forty Years of Pioneer Life: Memoir of John Mason 
Peck, D.D. (Philadelphia, 1864), pp. 101-3. 

77 The Evangelical Spirit 

of the most primitive structure, was situated at some distance 
within the cornfield. In and around it were the patriarchal head 
and his wife, two married daughters and their husbands, with 
three or four little children, and a son and daughter grown up to 
manhood and womanhood. The old man said he could read but 
"mighty poorly ." The old woman wanted a hyme book, but could 
not read one. The rest of this romantic household had no use for 
books or "any such trash." I had introduced myself as a Baptist 
preacher, traveling through the country preaching the gospel to 
the people. The old man and his wife were Baptists,, at least had 
been members of some Baptist church when they lived "in the 
settlements/ The "settlements" with this class in those days meant 
the back parts of Virginia and the Carolinas, and in some instances 
the older sections of Kentucky and Tennessee, where they had 
lived in their earlier days. But it was "a mighty poor chance" for 
Baptist preaching where they lived. The old man could tell me 
of a Baptist meeting he had been at on the St. Frangois, and 
could direct me to Elder Farrar s residence near St. Michael. The 
old woman and the young folks had not seen a Baptist preacher 
since they had lived in the territory some eight or ten years. Oc 
casionally they had been to a Methodist meeting. This was the 
condition of a numerous class of people then scattered over the 
frontier settlements of Missouri. The "traveling missionary" was 
received with all the hospitality title old people had the ability or 
knew how to exercise. The younger class were shy and kept out of 
the cabin, and could not be persuaded to come in to hear the mis 
sionary read the Scriptures and offer a prayer. There was evidence 
of backwardness, or some other propensity, attending all the 
domestic arrangements. . . . 

Not a table, chair, or any article of furniture could be seen. 
These deficiencies were common on the frontiers; for emigrations 
from the "settlements" were often made on pack-horses, and no 
domestic conveniences could be transported, except the most in 
dispensable cooking-utensils, bedding, and a change or two of 
clothing. But the head of the family must be shiftless indeed, and 
void of all backwoods skill and enterprise, who could not make a 
table for family use. There were two fashions of this necessary arti 
cle in the time to which I refer. One was a slab, or "puncheon," as 
then called, split from a large log, four feet long, and from fifteen 
to eighteen inches wide, and hewn down to the thickness of a 


plank. In this were inserted four legs, after the fashion of a stool 
or bench, at the proper height. The other was a rough frame, in 
which posts were inserted for legs, and covered with split clap 
boards shaved smooth, and fastened with small wooden pins. We 
found one of these descriptions of tables in hundreds of log cabins 
where neatness, tidiness, and industry prevailed. . . . 

The viands now only need description to complete this accurate 
picture of real squatter life. The rancid bacon when boiled could 
have been detected by a foetid atmosphere across the yard, had 
there been one. The snap-beans, as an accompaniment, were not 
half-boiled. The sour buttermilk taken from the churn, where the 
milk was kept throughout the whole season, as it came from the 
cow, was "no go/* The article on which the traveler made a hearty 
breakfast, past ten o clock in the morning, was the corn, boiled in 
fair water. 

At times, the missionaries were simply overwhelmed. One wrote of 
his difficulties in the town of China, Indiana, in 1833: * 

Ignorance & her squalid brood. A universal dearth of intellect. 
Total abstinence from literature is very generally practiced. Aside 
from br. Wilder and myself, there is not a literary man of any 
sort in the bounds. There is not a scholar in grammar or geography, 
or a teacher capable of instructing in them, to my knowledge. 
There are some neighborhoods in which there has never been a 
school of any kind. Parents and children are one dead level of 
ignorance. Others are supplied a f ew months in the year with the 
most antiquated & unreasonable forms of teaching reading, writing 
& cyphering. Master Ignoramus is a striking facsimile of them. 
They are never guilty of teaching any thing but "pure school 
master larnin" Of course there is no kind of ambition for improve 
ment; & it is no more disgrace for man, woman or child to be un 
able to read, than to have a long nose. Our own church the other 
day elected a man to the eldership who is unable to read the bible. 
I don t know of ten families who take any kind of paper, political 
or religious, & the whole of their revenue to the Post office de 
partment is not as much as mine alone. Need I stop to remind you 
of the host of loathsome reptiles such a stagnant pool is fitted to 
breedl Croaking jealousy; bloated Bigotry; coiling suspicion; 
wormish blindness; crocodile malicel . . . 
1 Goodykcontz: op. cit., p. 19 x. 

79 The Evangelical Spirit 

But men and women living under conditions of poverty and exacting 
toil, facing the hazards of Indian raids, fevers, and agues, and raised 
on whisky and brawling, could not afford education and culture; and 
they found it easier to reject what they could not have than to admit 
the lack of it as a deficiency in themselves. 

Another worker in a nearby Indiana town wrote more sympatheti 
cally at about the same time that "the people are poor & far from market 
labouriously engaged in improving & cultivating their new land." But 
the cultural conditions he found were somewhat the same: 2 

Society here is in an unformed state composed of persons from 
every part of the Union. . . . Religious sects are numerous & 
blind guides enough to swallow all the camels in Arabia Some of 
these cant read Some labour to preach down the Sabbath! & 
others to rob Christ of His divinity! and all harmoniously unite in 
decrying education as requisite for a public teacher & in abusing 
the learned clergy who take wages for their services. When shall 
this reign of ignorance & error cease in the West? 

Of course, to describe the condition of this country is to provide the 
evangelists with their best defense. It must be said that they were not 
lowering the level of a high culture but *8rying to bring the ordinary 
restraints and institutions of a civilized society into an area which had 
hardly any culture at all. The best of them were clearly the intellectual 
and cultural superiors of their environment, and the poorest of them 
could hardly have made it worse. The home missionaries sent out by 
the religious organizations were constantly fighting against one mani 
festation or another of the process of social dissolution against the 
increasing numbers of unchurched and non-religious people, against 
"marriages" unsanctified in the church, and against unregulated lives, 
wild drinking, and savage fighting. Though often welcomed, they still 
had to carry on their work under opposition that at the least came to 
heckling and at the worst was really hazardous. The most famous of the 
circuit-riding Methodist preachers, Peter Cartwright, reported that 
camp meetings were attended by rowdies armed with knives, clubs, 
and horsewhips, determined to break up the proceedings. One Sunday 
morning, when his sermon was interrupted by toughs, Cartwright him 
self had to lead his congregation in a counterassault. Those who under 
took the hard task of bringing religion westward, as it were, in their 

2 Ibid., pp. 191-2. For an account o similar conditions in early Indiana, see 
Baynard R. Hall: The New Purchase ( 1843; ed. Princeton, 1916 ) , p. 120. 



and the Revivalists 

JLx SEEMS evident in retrospect, as indeed it did to some contem 
poraries, that the conditions of early nineteenth-century American de 
velopment created a nev* and distinctive form of Christianity in which 
both the organization of the churches and the standards of the ministry 
were unique. For eenturies the first tradition of Christianity had been 
not the tradition of multiple religious "denominations" but the tradi 
tion of the Church. But from the beginning the American colonies were 
settled by a variety of immigrant groups representing the wide range 
of confessional commitments that had grown up in post-Reformation 
Europe the religions of the "left" as well as those of the "right." It be 
came clear at an early date that the maintenance on these shores of a 
monopolistic and coercive establishment would be extremely difficult; 
and by the middle of the eighteenth century the colonials were well on 
the way to learning the amenities of religious accommodation and the 
peaceful possibilities of a legal policy of toleration. 

As religious disunity -was followed by religious multiplicity, Ameri 
cans uprooted church establishments and embraced religious liberty. 
Under the broad liberty prevailing in the American states at the 
close of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, 
religious groups that had begun as dissenting sects developed into firm 
organizations, less formal than the churches of the past, but too secure 
and well-organized to be considered sects. The promoted sects and 
the demoted establishments, now operating more or less on a par in a 


saddlebags, would have been ineffective had they been the sort of 
pastors who were appropriate to the settled churches of the East. They 
would have been ineffective in converting their moving flocks if they 
had not been able to develop a vernacular style in preaching, and if 
they had failed to share or to simulate in some degree the sensibilities 
and prejudices of their audiences anti-authority, anti-aristocracy, anti- 
Eastern, anti-learning. The various denominations responded in dif 
ferent ways to this necessity: but in general it might be said that the 
congregations were raised and the preachers -were lowered. In brief, 
the elite upon which culture depended for its transmission was being 
debased by the demands of a rude social order. If our purpose were to 
pass judgment on the evangelical ministers, a good case could be made 
for them on the counts of sincerity, courage, self -sacrifice, and intelli 
gence. \But since our primary purpose is to assess the transit of civili 
zation and the development of culture, we must bear in mind the so 
ciety that was emerging. It was a society of courage and character, of 
endurance and practical cunning, but it was not a society likely to 
produce poets or artists or savants. 


and the Revivalists 

JL.T SEEMS evident in retrospect, as indeed it did to some contem 
poraries, that the conditions of early nineteenth-century American de 
velopment created a nev, and distinctive form of Christianity in which 
both the organization of the churches and the standards of the ministry 
were unique. F^ centuries the first tradition of Christianity had been 
not the tradition of multiple religious "denominations" but the tradi 
tion of the ihurch. But from the beginning the American colonies were 
settled by a variety of immigrant groups representing the wide range 
of confessional commitments that had grown up in post-Reformation 
Europe the religions of the "left" as well as those of the "right." It be 
came clear at an early date that the maintenance on these shores of a 
monopolistic and coercive establishment would be extremely difficult; 
and by the middle of the eighteenth century the colonials were well on 
the way to learning the amenities of religious accommodation and the 
peaceful possibilities of a legal policy of toleration. 

As religious disunity was followed by religious multiplicity, Ameri 
cans uprooted church establishments and embraced religious liberty. 
Under the broad liberty prevailing in the American states at the 
close of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, 
religious groups that had begun as dissenting sects developed into firm 
organizations, less formal than the churches of the past, but too secure 
and well-organized to be considered sects. The promoted sects and 
the demoted establishments, now operating more or less on a par in a 


voluntary and freely competitive religious environment, settled down 
into what has come to be called denominationalism. 1 The essence of 
American denominationalism is that churches became voluntary or 
ganizations. The layman, living in a society in which no church enjoyed 
the luxury of compulsory membership and in which even traditional, 
inherited membership was often extraordinarily weak, felt free to 
make a choice as to which among several denominations should have 
his allegiance. In the older church pattern, the layman was born into a 
church, was often forced by the state to stay in it, and received his 
religious experiences in the fashion determined by its liturgical forms. 
The American layman, however, was not simply born into a denomi 
nation nor did he inherit certain sacramental forms; the denomination 
was a voluntary society which he chose to join often after undergoing a 
transforming religious experience. 

There was nothing fictional about this choice. So fluid had been the 
conditions of American life toward the end of the eighteenth century, 
and so disorganizing the consequences of the Revolution, that perhaps 
as many as ninety per cent of the Americans were unchurched in 1790. 
In the subsequent decades this astonishing condition of religious 
anarchy was to a considerable degree remedied. The religious public 
sorted itself out, as it were, and much of it fell into line in one denomi 
nation or another. But in this process the decision to join a church had 
been made over and over again by countless individuals. And -what the 
layman chose was a religious denomination already molded by previous 
choices and infused with the American s yearning for a break with the 
past, his passion for the future, his growing disdain for history. In the 
American political creed the notion prevailed that Europe represented 
corruptions of the past which must be surmounted. The Protestant 
denominations were based on a similar view of the Christian past. 2 It 
was commonly believed that the historical development of Christianity 
was not an accretion of valuable institutional forms and practices but a 
process of corruption and degeneration in which the purity of primitive 

1 Readers who are familiar with Sidney E. Mead s brilliant essays on American 
religious history will recognize my great indebtedness to him in the following 
pages, especially to his penetrating account of "Denominationalism: The Shape 
of Protestantism in America/ Church History, Vol. XXIII (December, 1954), 
pp. 29 1320; and "The Rise of the Evangelical Conception of the Ministry in 
Ajnerica ( 16071850 )/* in Richard Niebuhr and Daniel D. Williams, ed.: The 
Ministry in Historical Perspectives ( New York, 1956 ), pp. 207 49. 

2 For a stimulating exploration of the desire to surmount the past in nineteenth- 
century American letters, see R. W. B. Lewis: The American Adam (Chicago, 

83 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

Christianity had been lost. The goal of the devout, then, was not to 
preserve forms but to strike out anew in order to recapture this purity. 
"This is an age of freedom," wrote the distinguished evangelical 
Presbyterian, Albert Barnes, in 1844, "and men will be free. The reli 
gion of forms is the stereotyped wisdom or folly of the past, and does 
not adapt itself to the free movements, the enlarged views, the varying 
plans of this age." 3 

The objective was to return to the pure conditions of primitive 
Christianity, to which Scripture alone would give the key. Even those 
who disliked this tendency in American religion could see how cen 
tral it was. In 1849 a spokesman of the German Reformed Church 
remarked that the appeal of the sects to private judgment and to the 
Bible 4 

involves, of necessity, a protest against the authority of all previ 
ous history, except so far as it may seem to agree -with what is thus 
found to be true; in which case, of course, the only real measure 
of truth is taken to be, not this authority of history at all, but the 
mind, simply, of the particular sect itself. ... A genuine sect will 
not suffer itself to be embarrassed for a moment, either at its start 
or afterwards, by the consideration that it has no proper root in 
past history. Its ambition is rather to appear in this respect au toch- 
thonic, aboriginal, self-sprung from the Bible, or through the 
Bible from the skies. . . . The idea of a historical continuity in 
the life of the Church, carries with it no weight whatever for the 
sect consciousness. 

It is significant, then, that the bond that held most denominations 
together need not be a traditional, inherited confessional bond that is, 
not a historical system of doctrinal belief but goals or motives more or 
less newly constituted and freshly conceived. Since there need be only 
a shadow of confessional unity in the denominations, the rational dis 
cussion of theological -issues in the past a great source of intellectual 
discipline in the churches came to be regarded as a distraction, as a 
divisive force. Therefore, although it was not abandoned, it was sub 
ordinated to practical objectives which were conceived to be far more 

3 "The Position of the Evangelical Party in the Episcopal Church," Miscel 
laneous Essays and Reviews (New York, 1855), Vol. I, p. 371. This essay is a 
thoroughgoing attack on religious forms as being inconsistent with the evangelical 

4 John W. Nevin: "The Sect System," Mercersburg Review, Vol. I (September, 
1849), pp. 499~5oo. 


important. 5 The peculiar views or practices of any denomination, if 
they were not considered good for the general welfare or the common 
mission enterprise, were sacrificed to this mission without excessive 
regret. 6 And the mission itself was defined by evangelism. In a society 
so mobile and fluid, with so many unchurched persons to be gained for 
the faith, the basic purpose of the denominations, to which all other 
purposes and commitments were subordinated, was that of gaining 

The denominations were trying to win to church allegiance a public 
which, for whatever reason, had not been held by the traditional 
sanctions of religion and which had lost touch both with liturgical forms 
and with elaborate creeds. It was unlikely that an appeal mediated by 
such forms and creeds could now regain the people. What did seem to 
work was a restoration of the kind of primitive emotional appeal that 
the first Christian proselytizers had presumably used in the early days 
of the faith. Revivalism succeeded where traditionalism had failed. 
Emotional upheavals took the place of the coercive sanctions of reli 
gious establishments. Simple people were brought back to faith with 
simple ideas, voiced by forceful preachers who were capable of getting 
away from the complexities and pressing upon them the simplest of 
alternatives: the choice of heaven or hell. Salvation, too, was taken as a 
matter of choice: the sinner was expected to "get religion" it was not 
thought that religion would get him. Whatever device worked to 

5 This historical background may go far to explain what Will Herberg has 
founcTto be such a prominent characteristic of contemporary American religion 
a strong belief in the importance of religion-in-general coupled -with great in 
difference to the content of religion. (Cf. Eisenhower in 195^: "Our government 
makes no sense, unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith and I don t 
care what it is." ) ] This generalized faith in faith is the product, among other 
things, of centuries of denominational accommodation. See Herberg: Protestant, 
Catholic, Jew (Anchor ed., New York, 1960), chapter 5, especially pp. 8490. 

6 Even in 1782 Cr&vecoeur found that in America, "if the sectaries are not 
settled close together, if they are mixed with other denominations, their zeal 
will cool for want of fuel, and will be extinguished in a little time. Then the 
Americans will become as to religion what they are as to country, allied to all. . . . 
All sects are mixed as well as all nations; thus religious indifference is imper 
ceptibly disseminated from one end of the continent to the other; which is at 
present one of the strongest characteristics of the Americans. Where this will 
reach no one can tell, perhaps it may leave a vacuum fit to receive other systems. 
Persecution, religious pride, the love of contradiction, are the food of what the 
world commonly calls religion. These motives have ceased here; zeal in Europe is 
confined; here it evaporates in the great distance it has to travel; there it is a 
grain of powder enclosed, here it burns away in the open air, and consumes with 
out effect." Letters from, an American Farmer (New York, 1957), pp. 44, 47. Of 
course, in the decades after 1790 some of the religious enthusiasm was restored, 
but the passion for distinguishing sectarian differences was restored in -nothing 
like the same manner. 

85 Evangelicalism and the Revitialists 

bring him back into the fold was good. As that indefatigable saver of 
souls, D wight L. Moody, once put it: "It makes no difference how 
you get a man to God, provided you get him there." 7 Long before 
pragmatism became a philosophical creed, it was formulated, albeit in 
a crude way, by the evangelists. For the layman the pragmatic test in 
religion was the experience of conversion; for the clergyman, it was the 
ability to induce this experience. [The minister s success in winning 
souls was taken as the decisive evidence that he preached the truth. 8 
The ministry itself was metamorphosed by the denominational sys 
tem and the regnant evangelical spirit. The churches, whatever their 
denominational form or plan of organization, tended in varying de 
grees to move in the direction of a kind of Congregationalism or local 
ism. The combined forces of localism and revivalism greatly strength 
ened the hand of the heretic or the schismatic: so long as he could 
produce results, who could control him? They also strengthened the 
hand of the layman. The minister, pulled away from the sustaining 
power of a formidable central church, was largely thrown on his own 
resources in working out his relationship with his congregation. He did 
claim and establish as much authority as he could, but the conditions 
of American life favored an extraordinary degree of lay control. In the 
South even the colonial Anglican church, with its traditions of cleracal 
authority, had found that an extraordinary measure of control passed 
into the hands of its vestrymen. Everywhere the American ministers 
seemed to be judged by the laymen, and in a sense used by them. 
Even in the eighteenth century, Crevecoeur had commented on the 
attitude of the Low Dutchman who "conceives no other idea of a 
clergyman than that of an hired man; if he does his work well he will 
pay him the stipulated sum; if not he will dismiss him, and do without 
his sermons, and let his house be shut up for years/ 9 

7 Quoted in William G. McLoughlin: Billy Sunday Was His Real Name (Chi 
cago, 1955), p. 158. A more sophisticated preacher like Washington Gladden could 
also say that his own theology "had to be hammered out on the anvil for daily 
use in the pulpit. The pragmatic test was the only one that could be applied to it: 
Will it work?* " Recollections (Boston, 1909), p. 163. 

8 One of the chapters in Charles G. Finney s Lectures on Revivals of Religion 
(New York, 1835) is headed: "A Wise Minister Will Be Successful," and cites 
Proverbs XI, 30: "He that winneth souls is wise." 

9 Crevecoeur: op. cit., p. 45. This should not be taken as suggesting that the 
ministers were not respected. They did not have respect by virtue of their office, 
but they could and often did win respect. Timothy Dwight said of the early 
Connecticut clergy that they had no official power but much influence, ""Clergy 
men, here, are respected for what they are, and for what they do, and not for 
anything adventitious to themselves, or their office/* Mead: "The Rise of the 
Evangelical Conception of the Ministry," p. 236. 


The ministers, in turn, unable to rely as much as in the Old World 
upon the authority o their churches and their own positions, became, 
when they were most successful, gifted politicians in church affairs, 
well versed in the secular arts of manipulation. Moreover, there was a 
premium upon ministers capable of a mixed kind of religious and na 
tionalistic statecraft, whose object was to reform the country and -win 
the West for Christianity. Concerning the apparatus of societies de 
voted to such purposes which sprang up between 1800 and 1850, one 
minister complained: "The minister is often expected to be, for the 
most part, a manager of social utilities, a wire-puller of beneficent 
agencies," whose character was too often judged by "the amount of 
visible grinding that it can accomplish in the mill of social reform. 
. . /* x As a consequence, Sidney E. Mead has pointed out y "the concep 
tion of the minister practically lost its priestly dimension as traditionally 
conceived, and became that of a consecrated functionary, called of 
God, who directed the purposive activities of the visible church/ 2 

Finally, the work of the minister tended to be judged by his success 
in a single area the saving of souls in measurable numbers. The local 
minister was judged either by his charismatic powers or by his ability 
to prepare his congregation for the preaching of some itinerant minis 
terial charmer who would really awaken its members. 3 The "star" sys 
tem prevailed in religion before it reached the theater. As the evangeli 
cal impulse became more widespread and more dominant, the 
selection and training of ministers was increasingly shaped by the re 
vivalist criterion of ministerial merit. The Puritan ideal of the minister 
as an intellectual and educational leader was steadily weakened in the 
face of the evangelical ideal of the minister as a popular crusader and 
exhorter. Theological education itself became more instrumental. Sim 
ple dogmatic formulations were considered sufficient.^ In considerable 

1 Andrew P. Peabody: The Work of the Ministry (Boston, 1850), p. 7. It was 
the patriotic and statesmanlike concern of the Protestant clergy for the Christiani- 
zation of the West that caused Tocqueville to remark that "if you converse with 
these missionaries of Christian civilization, you will be surprised to hear them 
speak so often of the goods of this world, and to meet a politician where you 
expected to find a priest." Democracy in America, ed. by Phillips Bradley (New 
York, 1945), Vol. I, pp. 306-7. 

2 "The Rise of the Evangelical Conception of the Ministry," p. 2,2,8. 

3 This reliance upon the charismatic power of the minister has never ceased to 
be important. "Truth through Personality," said Phillips Brooks, "is our description 
of real preaching." And one of his contemporaries, William Jewett Tucker, agreed: 
"The law is, the greater the personality of the preacher, the larger the use of his 
personality, the wider and deeper the response of men to truth." See Robert S. 
Michaelsen: "The Protestant Ministry in America: 1850 to the Present," in Niebuhr 
and Williams: op. cit., p. 283. 

87 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

measure the churches withdrew from intellectual encounters with the 
secular world, gave up the idea that religion is a part of the whole life 
of intellectual experience, and often abandoned the field of rational 
studies on the assumption that they were the natural province of 
science alone. By 1853 an outstanding clergyman complained that 
there was "an impression, somewhat general, that an intellectual 
clergyman is deficient m piety, and that an eminently pious minister is 
deficient in intellect." 4 / 

All the foregoing is in the nature of broad generalization, always some 
what hazardous where American religion is concerned, because of 
regional differences and the diversity of American religious practices. 
But I think these generalizations roughly describe the prevalent pat 
tern of American denominational religion, and the characteristic ef 
fects of evangelicalism. There were, of course, important conservative 
churches largely or wholly uninfluenced by the evangelicals. Some of 
them, like the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutherans, were unaf 
fected except in external ways by the currents of evangelicalism; 
others, like the Episcopalian, were affected in varying degrees from 
place to place; others, like the Presbyterian and Congregational, were 
internally divided by the evangelical movement. 

If one compares American society at the close of the Revolution, still 
largely hemmed in east of the Alleghenies, with the much vaster Ameri 
can society of 1850, when the denominational pattern was basically 
fixed, one is impressed by the gains of the groups committed to evan 
gelicalism. At the end of the Revolution the three largest and strongest 
denominations were the Anglicans, the Presbyterians, the Congrega- 
tionalists. Two of these had once been established in one place or an 
other, and the third had a strong heritage in America. By 1850, the 
change was striking. The largest single denomination was then the 
Roman Catholic. Among Protestant groups the first two were now the 
Methodists and the Baptists, once only dissenting sects. They were fol 
lowed by the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Lutherans, in that 

4 Bela Bates Edwards: "Influence of Eminent Piety on the Intellectual Powers/ 
Writings (Boston, 1853), Vol. II, pp. 497-8. "Are we not apt to dissociate the 
intellect from the heart, to array knowledge and piety against each other, to exalt 
the feelings at the expense of the judgment, and to create the impression^ exten 
sively, that eminent attainments in knowledge and grace are incompatible? * Ibid., 
pp. 472-3- 


order. The Episcopal Church had fallen to eighth place a significant 
token of its inability, as an upper-class conservative church, to hold its 
own in the American environment. 5 

By and large, then, the effort to maintain and extend Protestant 
Christianity, both in the fresh country of the West and in the growing 
cities, was carried on successfully by the popular, evangelical denomi 
nations, not by the liturgical churches. The sweeping gains of the 
Methodists and Baptists were evidence of their ability to adapt to the 
conditions of American life. The extent to which the evangelicals had 
taken over such denominations as the Congregationalists and the Pres 
byterians is also evidence of the power of the evangelical impulse to 
transform older religious structures. 

The evangelists were the main agents of the spread of Protestant 
Christianity, religious revival its climactic technique. From the closing 
years of the eighteenth century, and well on into the nineteenth, suc 
cessive waves of revivals swept over one or another part of the country. 
A first wave, running roughly from about 1795 to 1835, was particularly 
powerful in the New West of Tennessee and Kentucky, then in west 
ern New York and the Middle Western states. Its fevers had not 
long died out when a new wave, beginning about 1840, swept into the 
towns and cities, demonstrating (as later revivalists like D wight L. 
Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham were to understand) that 
revivalism need not be only a country phenomenon. This revival 
reached its climax in the troubled years 1857 and 1858, when great out 
pourings of the spirit affected New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cin 
cinnati, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Binghamton, Fall River, and a host of 
smaller towns. 6 

Revivals were not the sole instruments of this effort. By the third 

5 For an excellent statement about the numbers, schismatic divisions, theological 
commitments, and mutual relations of the various denominations, see Timothy L. 
Smith: Revivalism and Social Reform (New York and Nashville, 1958), chapter i, 
"The Inner Structure of American Protestantism." In 1855 all Methodist groups 
(including North and South) had 1.5 million members; all Baptists groups 1.1 
million; all Presbyterian groups 490,000; all Lutheran, German Reformed and 
similar groups, 350,000. The Congregationalists numbered about 200,000; the 
Episcopalians, only about 100,000. 

6 My treatment of revivalism owes much to William G. McLoughlin s excellent 
survey of the whole movement: Modern Revivalism (New York, 1959); to Timothy 
L. Smith s Revivalism and Social Reform, already cited, which is particularly good 
on the period after 1840 and on the urban revivals; to Charles A. Johnson s account 
of The Frontier Camp Meeting (Dallas, 1955), which is especially illuminating 
with regard to the primitive frontier conditions of 1800 i 820 ; and to Bernard 
Weisberger s They Gathered at the River (Boston, 1958). 

89 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

decade of the century, the evangelicals had founded a number of mis 
sion societies, Bible and tract societies, education societies, Sunday- 
school unions, and temperance organizations, most of them organized 
on interdenominational lines. These agencies were prepared to assist in 
a crusade whose first objective would be to Christianize the Mississippi 
Valley and save it from religious apathy, infidelity, or Romanism, and 
whose ultimate purpose was to convert every American and then, 
quite literally, the world. For a long time denominational differences 
were subordinated in this drive against the common foes of skepticism, 
passivity, and Romanism. Where denominations did not co-operate 
as such, the benevolent societies gave scope to individuals who were 
interested in a common effort; they also oflEered opportunities for as 
sertive laymen to take the lead in joint benevolent enterprises where 
clergymen were reluctant. The evangelical groups maintained their 
co-operation through most of the great revival upsurge of 1795 to 
1835. But by about 1837 *& e common effort had lost its impetus; in part 
it was checked by resurgent disputes between the sects and by schisms 
within them; but it declined also because the evangelizing crusade had 
already succeeded in achieving its main objectives. 7 

Successful it was, by any reasonable criteria. The figures show a 
remarkable campaign of conversion carried out under inordinately dif 
ficult circumstances. In the mid-eighteenth century, America had a 
smaller proportion of church members than any other nation in Chris 
tendom. American religious statistics are notoriously unreliable, but it 
has been estimated that in 1800 about one of every fifteen Americans 
was a church member; by 1850 it was one of seven. In 1855 slightly 
more than four million persons were church members in a population 
of over twenty-seven million. To the twentieth-century American, ac 
customed to see a great majority of the population enrolled as church 
members, these figures may not seem impressive; but it is important to 
remember that church membership, now bland and often meaningless, 
was then a more serious and demanding thing; all the evangelizing 
sects required a personal experience of conversion as well as a fairly 
stern religious discipline. There were many more church-goers than 
church members at least if we are to judge by the twenty-six mil 
lion church seating accommodations reported in 1860 for a population 

r On the common effort of this period, and its recession, see Charles I. Foster: 
An Errand of Mercy: The Evangelical United Front, 179O-1&37 (Chapel Hill, 


of thirty-one million. 8 The most imposing achievements o all the 
denominations were those of the Methodists and Baptists, who together 
had almost seventy per cent of all Protestant communicants. 

* 3 * 

As the evangelical tide at first swept westward, and then into the 
growing cities, it became clear that the religious conquest of America 
was mainly in the hands of three denominations: the Methodists, the 
Baptists, and the Presbyterians. A look at these denominations will tell 
us much about the cultural evangelization of the continent. 

Among the evangelical groups, the strongest intellectual tendencies 
were shown by the Presbyterians, who carried westward the traditions 
of both New England Congregationalism and colonial Presbyterianism. 
Under the terms of their Plan of Union of 1801, the Presbyterians and 
the Congregationalists had co-ordinated their activities in such a way 
that Congregationalism largely lost its identity outside New England. 
The Plan of Union was based upon the common Calvinist-derived 
theology of the two churches; and since most Congregationalists out 
side of Massachusetts had no profound objection to the Presbyterian 
form of church organization, Congregational associations in New York 
and the Middle West tended to be absorbed into Presbyteries. But 
Congregationalism contributed a distinct cultural leaven and a strong 
New England flavor to the Presbyterian Church in the Middle West. 

The Presbyterians were often fiercely doctrinaire. Appealing to the 
enterprising and business classes as they did, they also became the 
elite church among the untraditional denominations. 9 The Presby 
terians were much concerned with fostering an instrumental form of 
higher education and using it for their sectarian interests. In time 
they fell victim to their own doctrinal passions and underwent a 
schism. Much influenced by their Congregational allies and recruits, 
a portion of the Presbyterian ministry began to preach what was 

8 The estimate for 1800 is that of Winfred E. Garrison: "Characteristics of 
American Organized Religion/* Annals of the American Academy of Political and 
Social Science, Vol. CCLVI (March, 1948), p. 20. The figures for 1855 and 1860 
are in Timothy L. Smith: op. cit., pp. 17, 20-1. The proportion of the population 
having church membership rose roughly from about 15 per cent in 1855 to 36 per 
cent in 1900, 46 per cent in 1926, and 63 per cent in 1958. Will Herberg: Protes 
tant, Catholic, Jew, pp. 47-8. 

9 There is a bit of Protestant folklore which sheds light on the social position of 
the various churches. A Methodist, it was said, is a Baptist who wears shoes; a 
Presbyterian is a Methodist who has gone to college; and an Episcopalian is a 
Presbyterian who lives off his investments. 

gi Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

known as the New Haven theology, a considerably liberalized version 
of Calvinism, which offered a greater hope of divine grace to a larger 
portion of mankind and lent itself more readily to the spirit and prac 
tice of evangelical revivals. The stricter Calvinists of the Old School, 
more in the Scottish and Scotch-Irish tradition, and based on Princeton 
College and Princeton Theological Seminary, could not accept the 
New School ideas. From 1828 to 1837 the church was shaken by con 
troversies and heresy trials. Leaders of Presbyterian evangelism such 
as Albert Barnes, Lyman Beecher, Asa Mahan, and Lyman Beecher s 
son Edward were among those charged with heresy. Finally, in 1837, 
the Old School ousted the New School, and henceforth synods and 
presbyteries throughout the country had to line up with one or the 
other of the two factions. Aside from theological differences, the Old 
School found the New School altogether too sympathetic to inter 
denominational missionary societies, and in a lesser measure objected 
to abolitionist sympathizers and agitators, who were strong in New 
School ranks. Yale, Oberlin College, and Lane Theological Seminary 
in Cincinnati were the main intellectual centers of New School evan 
gelism. Its great figure was Charles Grandison Finney, the outstand 
ing revivalist in America between the days of Edwards and Whitefield 
and those of Dwight L. Moody. 

The case of Charles Grandison Finney provides a good illustration 
of the ambiguities of -what has been called "PresbygationaF evangelism 
and of the difficulty involved in any facile classification of religious 
anti-intellectuals. Finney and his associates, being heirs to the intel 
lectual tradition of New England, were often very much concerned 
with the continuation, if not the development, of learning. The heritage 
of such excellent transplanted Yankee colleges as Oberlin and Carleton 
College is a testimony to the persistent vitality of their tradition. It 
would be difficult to find among other evangelical groups many such 
literate and intelligent men as Finney, Asa Mahan, or Lyman Beecher; 
and one may well wonder how many evangelists of the period since 
the Civil War could have written an autobiography comparable to 
Finney s Memoirs. The minds of these men had been toughened by 
constant gnawing on Calvinist and neo-Calvinist theology and dis 
ciplined by the necessity of carving out their own theological fretwork. 
But their culture was exceptionally narrow; their view of learning was 
extremely instrumental; and instead of enlarging their intellectual in 
heritance, they steadily contracted it. 

Finney himself, although now remembered only by those who have a 


keen interest in American religious or social history, must be reckoned 
among our great men. The offspring of a Connecticut family which was 
caught up in the westward movement, he spent his childhood first in 
Oneida County in central New York and later near the shore of Lake 
Ontario. After a brief turn at schoolteaching in New Jersey, he quali 
fied for the bar in a small town not far from Utica. His conversion hap 
pened when he was twenty-nine. As he tells it, he was praying for 
spiritual guidance in a darkened law office when he "received a 
mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost/ the first of several such mystical 
confrontations that he was to have during his life. The f ollowing morn 
ing he told a client: "I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to 
plead his cause, and I cannot plead yours." * From that time forward, 
he belonged entirely to the ministry. In 1824 he -was ordained in the 
Presbyterian church, and from 1825 to 1835 he launched a series of re 
vivals that made him pre-eminent among the evangelical preachers of 
his time and established him as one of the most compelling figures in 
the history of American religion. 

Finney was gifted with a big voice and a flair for pulpit drama. But 
his greatest physical asset was his intense, fixating, electrifying, madly 
prophetic eyes, the most impressive eyes except perhaps for John C. 
Calhoun s in the portrait gallery of nineteenth-century America. The 
effect upon congregations of his sermons alternately rational and emo 
tional, denunciatory and tender was overpowering. "The Lord let 
me loose upon them in a wonderful manner/ he wrote of one of his 
most successful early revivals, and "the congregation began to fall from 
their seats in every direction, and cried for mercy. . . . Nearly the 
whole congregation were either on their knees or prostrate." 2 

In his theology Finney was a self-made man, an individualistic vil 
lage philosopher of the sort whose independence impressed Tocque- 
ville with the capacity of the American to strike out in pursuit of un 
tested ideas. As a candidate for the Presbyterian ministry he politely 
rejected the offer of a group of interested ministers to send him to 
Princeton to study theology: "I plainly told them that I would not put 
myself under such an influence as they had been under; that I was con 
fident they had been wrongly educated, and they were not ministers 
that met my ideal of what a minister of Christ should be." An admitted 

1 Memoirs (New York, 1876), pp. 20, 24; there is an illuminating account of 
Finney and enthusiasm in western New York in Whitney R. Cross: The Burned- 
Over District ( Ithaca, 1950 ) . 

2 Memoirs, pp. 100, 103. 

93 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

novice in theology, he still refused to accept instruction or correction 
when it did not correspond with his own views. "I had read nothing on 
the subject except my Bible; and what I had there found upon the 
subject, I had interpreted as I would have understood the same or like 
passages in a law book/ Again; "I found myself utterly unable to ac 
cept doctrine on the ground of authority. ... I had no where to go 
but directly to the Bible, and to the philosophy or workings of my own 
mind. . . ." 3 

Finney carried from the law into the pulpit an element of the old 
Puritan regard for rationality and persuasion (he once said he spoke to 
congregations as he would to a jury), which he used especially when he 
confronted educated middle-class congregations. For all his emotional 
power, he was soon regarded as too rational by some of his evangelical 
associates, who warned him in 1830 that his friends were asking about 
him: "Is there not danger of his turning into an intellectualist?" 4 But 
Finney was proud of his ability to adapt his preaching style to the 
sensibilities of his public, stressing emotion in the little country villages 
and adding a note of rational persuasion in more sophisticated Western 
towns such as Rochester. "Under my preaching, judges, and lawyers, 
and educated men were converted by scores/ 5 

At any rate, there was no danger of Finney s turning into an "in- 
tellectualist." In the main, he was true to the revival tradition both in 
his preaching methods and in his conception of the ministry. He did 
not admire ignorance in preachers, but he admired soul-winning re- 
suits, no matter how achieved; he scorned the written sermon, because 
it lacked spontaneity; and he looked upon secular culture as a potential 
threat to salvation. 

Finney had little use for ministerial education or for the kind of 
preaching he believed the educated clergy were doing. Not having en 
joyed, as he said, "the advantages of the higher schools of learning," he 
was acutely conscious of being regarded as an amateur by the ministry, 
and he was aware of being considered undignified. Early in his career, 
he learned that it was widely believed "that if I were to succeed in 
the ministry, it would bring the schools into disrepute," After some 

3 Ibid., pp. 42, 45-6, 54. This independence persisted, although Finney was 
aware that he lacked the learning to interpret the Bible independently. In time he 
learned some Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but he "never possessed so much knowl 
edge o the ancient languages as to think myself capable of independently 
criticising our English translation of the Bible/ Ibid., p. 5. 

4 McLoughlin: Modern Revivalism, p. 55. 

5 Memoirs, p. 84; cf . pp. 365-9. 


experience in preaching, he became convinced that "the schools are to 
a great extent spoiling the ministers," who were being given a great 
deal o Biblical learning and theology but who did not know how to 
use it. Practice was all: "A man can never learn to preach except by 
preaching.~ The sermons of the school-trained ministers "degenerate 
into literary essays. . . . This reading of elegant literary essays is not 
preaching. It is gratifying to literary taste, but not spiritually edify 

Finney was against all forms of elegance, literary or otherwise. 
Ornamentation in dress or efforts to improve one s domestic furnishings 
or taste or style of life were the same to him as the depraved tastes 
and refinements of smoking, drinking, card-playing, and theater-going. 
As to literature: "I cannot believe that a person who has ever known the 
love of God can relish a secular novel/ "Let me visit your chamber, 
your parlor, or wherever you keep your books," he threatened. "What 
is here? Byron, Scott, Shakespeare, and a host of triflers and blas 
phemers of God." Even the classical languages, so commonly thought 
necessary to a minister, were of dubious benefit. Students at Eastern 
colleges would spend "four years ... at classical studies and no 
God in them," and upon graduation such "learned students may under 
stand their hie, Juiec, hoc, very well and may laugh at the humble 
Christian and call him ignorant, although he may know how to win 
more souls than five hundred of them." 7 Looking upon piety and intel 
lect as being in open enmity, Finney found young ministers coming 
"out of college with hearts as hard as the college walls." The trouble 
with the "seminaries of learning" was that they attempted to "give 
young men intellectual strength, to the almost entire neglect of culti 
vating their moral feelings." "The race is an intellectual one. The excite 
ment, the zeal, are all for the intellect. The young man . . . loses the 
firm tone of spirituality. . . . His intellect improves, and his heart lies 
waste." s 

6 These opinions are all from Finney s Memoirs, chapter 7, "Remarks Upon 
Ministerial Education," pp. 8597; cf. Finney *s Lectures on Revivals of Religion, 
pp. 176-8. 

7 McLoughlin: Modern Revivalism, pp. 118 2,0. The one field in -which educa 
tion had Finney s approval, McLoughlin points out, was science. Like the Puritans 
of old, he saw science not as a threat to religion but as a means of glorifying God. 
The Middle Western church colleges have continued this regard for science, and 
have produced a great many academic scientists. On the reasons for this, see the 
stimulating discussion by R. H. Knapp and H. B. Goodrich: Origins of American 
Scientists (Chicago, 1952), chapter 19. 

8 Lectures on Revivals of Religion, pp. 4356. 

95 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

It is difficult to say whether Finney s description of American 
ministerial education was accurate, but certainly his sentiments rep 
resented the prevailing evangelical view. However prosperous the 
state of intellect was among fledgling ministers, he was against it. 


I have spoken of Finney at this length because he is a fair representa 
tive of the Presbygational evangelical movement: he was neither the 
most cultivated nor the crudest of its preachers. The effect of the 
evangelical impulse, of the search for a new religious style to reach the 
people and save souls, was to dilute the strong intellectual and educa 
tional traditions of the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists. The 
history of the Methodists, the largest church body and one vastly more 
successful than the Presbyterians in converting the benighted Ameri 
cans, presents an interesting contrast. The American Methodists be 
gan without an intellectualist tradition and with little concern for 
education or a highly trained ministry; but as time went on, as they 
lost much of their sectarian spirit and became a settled church, they 
attracted a membership whose concern for education grew with the 
years. Before the middle of the nineteenth century, the church was 
intermittently shaken by controversy between those who looked back 
nostalgically to the days of the ignorant but effective circuit-riding 
preachers and those who looked forward to the day when a better- 
educated clergy would minister to a respectable laity. The history of 
both the Methodists and the Baptists is an instructive illustration of the 
divided soul of American religion. On one hand, many of the mem 
bers of the church gave free expression to a powerfully anti-intellectual 
evangelism; on the other, in any large church there was always a wing 
which gave strong voice to a wistful respect for polite, decorative, and 
largely non-controversial learning. In this regard, that division between 
the redskin and the paleface which Philip Rahv has characterized as 
a feature of American letters was prefigured in American religion. 

John Wesley himself, an Oxford-trained cleric and a voracious 
reader, combined in a curious way an extraordinary intellectual vigor 
with a strong strain of credulity; he had set creditable intellectual 
standards for Methodism, but his American followers were not vitally 
interested in sustaining them. The nature of the evangelical spirit itself 
no doubt made the evangelical revival anti-intellectualist, but Ameri- 


can conditions provided a particularly liberating milieu for its anti- 
intellectual impulse. 9 

Both Wesley himself and Francis Asbury, the first organizer of 
American Methodism, were itinerant preachers, committed to itiner 
ancy not out of convenience but out of principle. It was their belief that 
a resident clergy ( as in many an English vicarage ) tended to go dead 
and lose its grip on congregations, but itinerants could bring new life to 
religion. On American soil the practice of itinerancy was a strategic 
asset that made the Methodists particularly adept at winning the mo 
bile American population back to Christianity. The bulwark and the 
pride of the early American Methodists were the famous circuit-riding 
preachers -who made up in mobility, flexibility, courage, hard work, 
and dedication what they might lack in ministerial training or dignity. 
These itinerants were justly proud of the strenuous sacrifices they made 
to bring the gospel to the people. Ill-paid and overworked, they carried 
out their mission in all weathers and under excruciating conditions of 
travel. (During a particularly ferocious storm it used to be said: "There s 
nobody out tonight but crows and Methodist preachers.") Their very 
hardships seemed testimony enough to their sincerity, 1 and their 

9 "It is a fundamental principle with us/* Wesley declared in answer to an early 
detractor of Methodism, "that to renounce reason is to renounce religion, that re 
ligion and reason go hand in hand, and that all irrational religion is false religion." 
R. W. Burtner and R. E. Chiles: A Compend of Wesley s Theology (New York, 
1 954)? p- ^6. But, as Norman Sykes has remarked, the influence of the evangelical 
revival was nonetheless intellectually retrograde, for it rose partly from a reaction 
against the rationalistic and Socinian tendencies that had grown out of the latitu- 
dinarian movement in theology. By comparison with the leading theological 
liberals, Wesley was "almost superstitious in his notions of the special interventions 
of Providence attendant upon the most ordinary details of his life," Sykes remarks, 
and "with Whitefield the situation was much worse, for he lacked altogether the 
education and cultured influence of his colleague. . . /* Norman Sykes: Church 
and State in England in the Eighteenth Century ( Cambridge, 1934 ), pp. 3989. 

A. C. McGiffert writes of the evangelical revival in England: "It turned its 
face deliberately toward the past instead of toward the future in its interpretation 
of man and his need. It sharpened the issue between Christianity and the modern 
age, and promoted the notion that the faith of the fathers had no message for their 
children. Becoming identified in the minds of many with Christianity, its narrow 
ness and mediaevalism, its emotionalism and lack of intellectuality, its crass 
supernaturalism and Biblical literalism, its want of sympathy with art and science 
and secular culture in general, turned them permanently against religion. In spite 
of the great work accomplished by evangelicalism, the result in many quarters was 
disaster/* Protestant Thought before Kant (New York, 1911), p. 175. On the 
intellectual limitations of early American Methodism, see S. M. Duvall: The 
Methodist Episcopal Church and Education up to 1869 (New York, 1928 ), 
pp. 5-8, 12. 

1 One thing these early churchmen understood was how much of their strength 
lay in the fact that they were not differentiated from the laymen they served 
either in culture or in style of living. An English visitor, accustomed to the dignity 

97 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

achievements in reclaiming the unchurched were often truly extraor 
dinary. It was mainly by their efforts that American Methodism grew 
from a little sect of some 3,000 members in 1775, four years after As- 
bury s arrival, to the largest Protestant denomination, with over a mil 
lion and a half members eighty years later. 

Whatever claims might be made for the more educated ministry of 
the high-toned denominations, the circuit-riders knew that their own 
way of doing things worked. They evolved a kind of crude pietistic 
pragmatism with a single essential tenet: their business was to save 
souls as quickly and as widely as possible. For this purpose, the elabo 
rate theological equipment of an educated ministry was not only an 
unnecessary frill but in all probability a serious handicap; the only 
justification needed by the itinerant preacher for his limited stock of 
knowledge and ideas was that he got results, measurable in conversions. 
To this justification very little answer was possible. 

The Methodist leaders were aware, as their critics often observed, 
that they appealed to the poor and the uneducated, and they proposed 
to make a virtue of it. Francis Asbury, who was offended by the stu 
dents at Yale because they were "very genteel," found even the 
Quakers too "respectable" "Ah, there is death in that word/* 2 In the 
country at large the Methodists easily outstripped the other denomina 
tions in the race for conversions. It was significant that for them New 
England, where the more settled populace was still somewhat more 
acquainted with the standards of an educated ministry, presented the 
stoniest soil, and that they made least headway there. But even there 
the Methodists began to make incursions upon religious life in the early 
nineteenth century. At first they ran up their banner in a fashion remi 
niscent of the New England Awakening: "We have always been more 
anxious to preserve a living rather than a learned ministry." 3 Jesse Lee, 
the leader of New England Methodism, when challenged about his 

of Anglican bishops, was astounded at his introduction to an Indiana Methodist 
bishop in 1825. He was surprised to find that the bishop s residence was a com 
mon farmhouse. As he waited with some impatience for the bishop to appear, he 
was told by one of the American ministers that Bishop Roberts was coming. "I see a 
man there, but no Bishop/" he said. "But that is certainly the Bishop, said the 
American. "No! no! that cannot be, for the man is in his shirtsleeves." Bishop 
Roberts had been at work on his property. Charles E. Elliott: The Life of the Rev. 
Robert R. Roberts (New York, 1844), PP* 299300. On the frontier bishop, see 
Elizabeth K. Nottingham: Methodism and the Frontier (New York, 1941), chap 
ter 5. 

2 George C. Baker, Jr.: An Introduction to the History of Early New England 
Methodism, 1789-1839 (Durham, 1941), p. 18. 

8 Ibid., p. 14. 


education ( a familiar experience there for Methodists competing with 
the learned clergy), would simply reply that he had education enough 
to get him around the country. 4 In time, New England became a test 
case for the adaptability of the Methodists, and they were not found 
wanting. A process of accommodation to respectability, gentility, and 
education set in among them which was to herald later and less spec 
tacular adaptations elsewhere. 

The Methodists of Norwich, Connecticut, for instance, were de 
scribed by a pamphleteer of 1800 as being "the most weak, unlearned, 
ignorant, and base part of mankind." & But toward the middle of the 
nineteenth century, a Congregationalist recalled the changes that had 
taken place in the Methodist church of nearby Ridgefield in words 
that might have applied widely elsewhere. 6 

Though, in its origin, it seemed to thrive upon the outcasts of 
society its people are now as respectable as those of any other 
religious society in the town. No longer do they choose to worship 
in barns, schoolhouses, and by-places; no longer do they affect 
leanness, long faces, and loose, uncombed hair; no longer do they 
cherish bad grammar, low idioms, and the euphony of a nasal 
twang in preaching. . . . The preacher is a man of education, 
refinement and dignity. 

As Methodism diffused throughout the country, along the frontier 
and into the South, in a milieu less demanding of educational per 
formance, its original dissent from the respectable, the schooled, and 
the established kept reasserting itself, but its own success again com 
pelled it to wage a battle against the invading forces of gentility. In a 
more decentralized church, each locality might have been more free 
to set its own character, but in a denomination with the formidable 

4 Ibid., p. 72. Cf . these words from a Methodist sermon reported to have been 
delivered in Connecticut: "What I insist upon, my brethren and sisters, is this; 
larnin isn t religion, and eddication don t give a man the power of the Spirit. It is 
grace and gifts that furnish the real live coals from off the altar. St. Peter was a 
fisherman <lo you think he ever went to Yale College? Yet he was the rock upon 
which Christ built his church. No, no, beloved brethren and sisters. When the 
Lord wanted to blow down the walls of Jericho, he didn t take a brass trumpet, or a 
polished French horn; no such thing; he took a ram s horn a plain, natural rain s 
horn just as it grew. And so, when he wants to blow down the walls of Jericho 
... he don t take one of your smooth, polite, college learnt gentlemen, but a 
plain, natural ram s horn sort of a man like me." S. G. Goodrich: Recollections 
o-f a Lifetime ( New York, 1856 ), Vol. I, pp. 196-7- 

5 Baker: op. cit., p. 16. 

6 Goodrich: op. cit., p. 311. 

gg Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

centralization of the Methodists, the fight over the cultural tone of the 
church became general. One can follow changing views within the 
church through one of its highbrows organs, The Methodist Magazine 
and Quarterly Review, and its successor,, entitled after 1841 The 
Methodist Quarterly Review. During the early 1830*5, it is clear, the 
Methodists were still acutely aware of being the butt of attacks by the 
more established religious groups; they were agitated by a difference 
between those on the one hand who stood for the kind of preaching 
represented by the itinerants and on the other hand laymen and edu 
cated preachers who wanted reforms. 7 In 1834 the controversy was 
brought to a head by an article by Reverend La Roy Sunderland, 
which in effect proposed to undercut the very existence of the itiner 
ants by requiring a good education of all Methodist preachers. "Has the 
Methodist Church," he asked heatedly, 

any usage or practice in any department of her membership from 
which one might be led to infer that an education of any kind is 
indispensably necessary before one can be licensed as a preacher 
of the Gospel? Nay, are not many of her usages the most directly 
calculated to give the impression that an education is not neces 
sary? Do we not say in the constant practice of our . . . confer 
ences, that, if one has gifts, grace, and a sound understanding, it is 

Sunderland -was answered by a spokesman of the old school who said 
that those who demanded an elaborate theological education were 
guilty of looking upon preaching as "a lousiness/ a trade, a secular pro 
fession like f law and medicine requiring a similar training/" The 
existing ministry was not in fact ignorant, and to say so was merely to 
"confirm all that our enemies have said." Had not the Methodists 
opened their own academies, colleges, even their university? "All our 
young men may now be educated, without having their morals en 
dangered by corrupt and infidel teachers; and without having their 
Methodism ridiculed out of them, by professors or presidents/* 8 As 

7 Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review, Vol. XII (January, 1830), pp. 16, 
29-68; Vol. XII (April, 1830), pp. 162-97; Vol. XIII (April, 1831), pp. 160-87; 
Vol. XIV ( July, 183* ) , pp. 377 ff - 

8 La Roy Sunderland: "Essav on a Theological Education," Methodist Magazine 
and Quarterly Review, Vol. XVI (October, 1834), p. 4^9- David M. Reese: "Brief 
Strictures on the Rev. Mr. Sunderland s Essay on Theological Education/ " 
Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review, Vol. XVII (January, 1835), pp. 107, 
114, US- 


time went on, the periodical itself reflected the victory of the reformers 
over the old guard, since it ran f ewer reminiscences of the old-fashioned 
itinerant ministers, which had long been a large part of its stock-in- 
trade, and more essays on fundamental theological subjects and mat 
ters of general intellectual interest. 

The church, in fact, was in the throes of a significant change during 
the 1830*5 and i84o s. The passion for respectability was winning sig 
nificant victories over the itinerating-evangelical, anti-intellectualist 
heritage from the previous generations. Again, the policy toward edu 
cation, both for laymen and for ministers, was a focal issue. Earlier 
Methodist efforts in education had been on the whole rather pathetic. 9 
In its earliest days, the church was handicapped in its educational ef 
forts not only by a lack of numbers but also by a lack of interest which 
seemed to pervade it from the lowliest laymen up to Asbury himself. 1 
Most Methodist laymen could not afford to do much for general educa 
tion in any case, and theological education seemed a waste of time for 
a ministry whose work it would be to preach a simple gospel to a sim 
ple people. 

Such early schools as were launched tended to fail for lack of sup- 

9 The fate of the first Methodist "college/* Cokesbury College in Abingdon, 
Maryland, may serve as an illustration. The project was the pet idea of Dr. Thomas 
Coke, Wesley s emissary, who brought to America his alien Oxford-inspired notions 
of education and succeeded in persuading the Methodists that they should found a 
college, in spite of the objections of Asbury, who would have preferred a general 
school such as Wesley had founded at Kingswood. Founded in 1787, the college 
was combined at the beginning (as was so often the case with early American 
colleges) with a preparatory school, which was far the more successful of the two. 
Within a year of its founding, the college lost all three faculty members by resigna 
tion. In 1794 the collegiate department was closed, leaving only the lower school; 
plans to re-found the college were interrupted by two fires in 1795 and 1796, which 
put an end to the project altogether. Asbury felt that it had been a waste of time 
and money. "The Lord called not Mr. Whitefield nor the Methodists to build 
colleges. I wished only for schools. . . ." The Journal and Letters of Francis 
Asbury > ed. by Elmer T. Clark et al. (London and Nashville, 1958), Vol. II, 
p. 75. See also Sylvanus M. Duvall: The Methodist Episcopal Church and Educa 
tion up to 1869 (New York, 1928), pp. 31-6. The Virginia Episcopal evangelist, 
I>evereux Jarratt, who knew something of the educational standards of the 
Anglican ministry, was appalled by the Methodist effort at Abingdon: "Indeed, I 
see not, how any considerate man could expect any great things from a seminary 
of learning, while under the supreme direction and controul of tinkers and taylors, 
weavers, shoemakers and country mechanics of all kinds or, in other words, of 
men illiterate and wholly unacquainted with colleges and their contents/* The Life 
of the Reverend Uevereuoc Jarratt Written by Himself (Baltimore, 1806), p. 181. 
1 Nathan Bangs, the first noted historian of the church, remarked that early 
Methodist hostility to learning became proverbial, and justly so. A History of the 
Methodist Episcopal Church ( New York, 1842 ) , Vol. II, pp. 318-21. 

Evangelicalism and the "Revivalists 

port. But after the death of Asbury in 1816, a group of strong-minded 
educational reformers, mainly from New England, went to work on 
the increasingly numerous and receptive body of laymen. Their efforts 
began to bear fruit in the late 1820*5, and Methodists began to sponsor 
several academies and a few creditable little colleges. Wesleyan in 
Connecticut, founded in 1831, was followed by Dickinson College 
(taken over from the Presbyterians in 1833), Allegheny College 
(1833), Indiana Asbury (founded in 1833, later DePauw), and Ohio 
Wesleyan ( 1842), to mention only the most outstanding. From 1835 to 
1860 the church started more than two hundred schools and colleges. 
As in the past, many of the schools were but poorly supported and 
maintained. The prevailing Methodist view of education was no doubt 
mainly instrumental but it represented an advance over the period 
when learning was not considered to be even of instrumental value to 
religion. The passion of some of the leading ministers for a more 
educated clergy, and the growing need to defend their theological 
position from increasingly subtle critics, 2 finally broke through the 
Methodist suspicion of a learned ministry. Theological seminaries were 
still suspect, as f ountainheads of heresy; so the first two Methodist semi 
naries were founded under the name of "Biblical Institutes." Again, the 
leadership came from New England not where the Methodists were 
strongest or most numerous, but where the competing educational 
standards were most formidable. 3 

The old guard never became reconciled to the newly emerging 
Methodist church, with its apparatus of academies, colleges, semi 
naries, and magazines. The most famous of the circuit-riders, Peter 
Cartwright, included in his remarkable autobiography, written in 1856, 
a full and forthright statement of the old-fashioned evangelical view 
of the ministry which deserves quotation at length as a perfect em 
bodiment of the anti-intellectualist position. 4 

Suppose, now, Mr. Wesley had been obliged to wait for a liter 
ary and theologically trained band of preachers before he moved 

2 Ibid., Vol. Ill, pp. 15-18. 

3 The first such seminary was not founded until 1847: it was the Methodist 
General Biblical Institute, organized at Concord, New Hampshire, and later trans 
ferred to Boston as the School of Theology of Boston University. It was followed by 
the Garrett Biblical Institute, at Evanston, Illinois, in 1854. The third such institu 
tion, Drew Theological Seminary, awaited the generosity of the famous Wall 
Street pirate, Daniel Drew; it was founded in 1867. 

4 Charles L. Wallis, ed.: Autobiography of Peter Cartwright (New York, 1956), 
PP- 63-5, 266-8. 


in the glorious work o his day, what would Methodism have "been 
in the Wesleyan connection today? ... If Bishop Asbury had 
waited for this choice literary band of preachers, infidelity -would 
have swept these United States from one end to the other. . . . 

The Presbyterians, and other Calvinistic branches of the Protes 
tant Church, used to contend for an educated ministry, for pews, 
for instrumental music, for a congregational or stated salaried 
ministry. The Methodists universally opposed these ideas; and 
the illiterate Methodist preachers actually set the world on fire 
(the American world at least) while they were lighting their 
matches! . . . 

I do not wish to undervalue education, but really I have seen 
so many of these educated preachers who forcibly reminded me 
of lettuce growing under the shade of a peach-tree, or like a gos 
ling that had got the straddles by wading in the dew, that I turn 
away sick and faint. Now this educated ministry and theological 
training are no longer an experiment. Other denominations have 
tried them, and they have proved a perfect failure. . . . 

I awfully fear for our beloved Methodism. Multiply colleges, 
universities, seminaries, and academies; multiply our agencies, 
and editorships, and fill them with all our best and most efficient 
preachers, and you localize the ministry and secularize them too; 
then farewell to itinerancy; and when this fails we plunge right 
into Congregationalism, and stop precisely where all other denomi 
nations started. . . . 

Is it not manifest that the employing so many of our preachers 
in these agencies and professorships is one of the great causes why 
we have such a scarcity of preachers to fill the regular work? 
Moreover, these presidents, professors, agents, and editors get a 
greater amount of pay, and get it more certainly too, than a trav 
eling preacher, who has to breast every storm, and often falls very 
far short of his disciplinary allowance. Here is a great temptation 
to those who are qualified to fill those high offices to seek them, 
and give up the regular work of preaching and trying to save 
souls. . . . 

Perhaps, among the thousands of traveling and local preachers 
employed and engaged in this glorious work of saving souls, and 
building up the Methodist Church, there were not fifty men that 
had anything more than a common English education, and scores 
of them not that; and not one of them was ever trained in a theo- 

103 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

logical school or Biblical institute, and yet hundreds of them 
preached the Gospel with more success and had more seals to 
their ministry than all the sapient, downy D.D/s in modern 
times, who, instead of entering the great and wide-spread harvest- 
field of souls, sickle in hand, are seeking presidencies or profes 
sorships in colleges, editorships, or any agencies that have a fat 
salary, and are trying to create newfangled institutions where 
good livings can be monopolized, while millions of poor, dying 
sinners are thronging the way to hell without God, without Gos 
pel. . . . 

I will not condescend to stop and say that I am a friend to learn 
ing, and an improved ministry, for it is the most convenient way 
to get rid of a stubborn truth, for these learned and gentlemanly 
ministers to turn about and say that all those ministers that are op 
posed to the present abuses of our high calling, are advocates for 
ignorance, and that ignorance is the mother of devotion. What 
has a learned ministry done for the world, that have studied 
divinity as a science? Look, and examine ministerial history. It is 
an easy thing to engender pride in the human heart, and this ed 
ucational pride has been the downfall and ruin of many preemi 
nently educated ministers of the Gospel. But I will not render evil 
for evil, or railing for railing, but will thank God for education, and 
educated Gospel ministers who are of the right stamp, and of the 
right spirit. But how do these advocates for an educated ministry 
think the hundreds of commonly educated preachers must feel 
under the lectures we have from time to time on this subject? 
It is true, many of these advocates for an improved and educated 
ministry among us, speak in rapturous and exalted strains con 
cerning the old, illiterate pioneers that planted Methodism and 
Churches in early and frontier times; but I take no flattering 
unction to my soul from these extorted concessions from these 
velvet-mouthed and downy D.D/s; for their real sentiments, if 
they clearly express them, are, that we were indebted to the igno 
rance of the people for our success. 

This was, no doubt, exactly the sentiment that some of the critics of 
the itinerants meant to express; but Cartwright might well have seen 
fit to concede that there was some truth in their case. Not all his evan 
gelical brothers would have denied it. As one group of evangelical 
workers had put it years earlier to Finney : "It is more difficult to labour 


with educated men, with cultivated minds and moreover predisposed 
to skepticism, than with the uneducated/* 5 


In many respects the history of the Baptists recapitulates that of the 
Methodists; but since the Baptists were much less centralized, still 
more uncompromising, still more disposed to insist on a ministry with 
out educational qualifications and even without salary, they yielded to 
change later and less extensively than the Methodists. As William 
Warren Sweet observes: < Among no other religious body was the preju 
dice against an educated and salaried ministry so strong as among the 
Baptists, and this prejudice prevailed not only among frontier Baptists, 
but pretty generally throughout the denomination in the early years of 
the nineteenth century." 6 

The Baptists, of course, had had bitter experiences with educated 
ministers and established churches, both in Congregational Mas 
sachusetts and Anglican Virginia, where they had been much per 
secuted. Characteristically, they supplied their ministry from the 
ranks of their own people. The Baptist preacher might be a farmer who 
worked on his land or a carpenter who worked at his bench like any 
other layman, and who left his work for Sunday or weekday sermons or 
for baptisms and funerals. He had little or no time for books. Such hard 
working citizens did not relish competition from other preachers, and 
they resisted with the most extraordinary ferocity even the home mis 
sionary societies which attempted to join with them in spreading the 
gospel throughout the hinterland. In this resistance to "outside" inter 
ference and centralized control they indoctrinated their followers. 
The word went out that anyone who had to do with the missionary 
societies would not be welcomed into the Baptist Associations. "We 
cannot receive into fellowship either churches or members who join 
one of those unscriptural societies," declared a Kentucky Baptist 
Association. And an Illinois group, manifesting in its almost paranoid 

5 Charles C. Cole: The Social Ideas of Northern Evangelists, 182,6-1860 (New 
York, 1954), P- So. Sam Jones, one of the most successful revivalists of the Gilded 
Age, later said that he preferred to work in the South: "I find the people further 
South are more easily moved. They haven t got the intellectual difficulties that 
curse the other portions of the country." McLoughlin: Modern Revivalism, pp. 299 

6 Religion in the Development of American Culture (New York, 1952), p. in. 

105 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

extreme a suspicion against authority, declared in a circular letter: 
"We further say to the churches, have nothing to do with the Bible 
Society, for we think it dangerous to authorize a few designing men to 
translate the holy Bible. Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has 
set you free, and be not entangled with the yoke of bondage.** 7 One 
should, I think, check one s impulse to wonder whether the Bible was 
to be translated by a national convention, and remember that Baptist 
suspicions had been kept alive by the memory of early persecutions 
and cruel ridicule. 8 

Baptists opposed missions in good part because they opposed the 
centralization of authority. Any concession to central church organiza 
tion, they felt, would be a step toward "the Pope of Rome and the 
Mother of Harlots/* Their uneducated and unsalaried ministers in 
evitably resented the encroachments of a better-educated and better- 
paid ministry. It was easy for an unpaid preacher to believe that the 
educated missionaries from the East were working only for the money it 
brought them. 9 A contemporary observer concluded that the unedu 
cated preachers were thoroughly aware of their own limitations. But 
"instead of rejoicing that the Lord had provided better gifts to pro 
mote the cause, they felt the irritability of wounded pride, common to 
narrow and weak minds." This diagnosis was confirmed by the candid 
retort of a Baptist preacher to a moderator who pointed out that, after 
all, no one was compelled to listen to missionaries or to give them 
money unless he chose. "Well, if you must know, Brother Moderator, 
you know the big trees in the woods overshadow the little ones; and 
these missionaries will be all great men, and the people will all go to 
hear them preach, and we shall be all put down. That s the objec 
tion." 1 

The Baptists, however, like the old-guard Methodists, could not 
absolutely resist the pressure for an educated ministry. Here the desire 

7 W. W. Sweet, ed.: Religion on the American Frontier The Baptists, 1783 
1830 (New York, 1931), p. 6sn. 

8 Cf. an early Virginia version of the Baptists: "Some of them were hair-lipped, 
others were blear-eyed, or hump-backed, or bow-legged, or clump-footed; hardly 
any of them looked like other people." Walter B. Posey: The Baptist Church in the 
Lower Mississippi Valley, 17761845 (Lexington, Kentucky, 1957), p. ^- 

Sweet: Religion on the American Frontier, p. 72. "Money and Theological 
learning seem to be the pride, we fear, of too many preachers of our day/* Ibid., 
p. 65. 

1 Ibid., pp. 734. On the intellectual condition of Baptist preachers and the 
resistance of preachers and laymen to education, see Posey: op. cit., chapter a. 


for self-respect and for the respect of others went hand in hand. A Vir 
ginia Baptist Association, seeking to found a seminary as early as 1789, 
gave the folio wing reason: 2 

Our brethren of other denominations around us Could no longer 
curse us for not knowing the Law, or discard and Reprobate a 
great deal of our Teaching for not knowing our Mother tongue, 
much less the original languages, and if we (in this as we ought in 
everything), do it with a single eye to The glory of God, and the 
advancement of the Redeemer s interest Then shall we have suf 
ficient to hope we shall meet with heaven^ approbation. 

The Baptist laymen were divided between their desire for respecta 
bility and their desire for a congenial and inexpensive ministry. By 
1830 Baptist leaders had made considerable progress toward providing 
an educated and salaried ministry, as well as toward raising the 
educational level of the laity itself. But it was slow work to transform 
the original bias of the Baptist churches, and it required a constant 
struggle against entrenched revivalist influences. 3 

. 6 

After the Civil War, important structural changes occurred in the posi 
tion of the churches. Bringing Christianity to the people of the growing 
cities became more and more urgent; it became increasingly difficult 
as well, since the churches had to find ways of adapting to the sensibili 
ties of the urban -worker and of coping with his poverty, as well as hold 
ing migrants from the countryside. The interest of revivalists in the 
cities, which had risen markedly even in the 1840*3 and 1850*5, now 
took on special urgency. From the time of Dwight L. Moody to that of 
Billy Graham, success in making conversions in the big cities and on 
an international scale has been the final test of an evangelist s im 
portance. The exhorter whose appeal was limited to the countryside 
and the small towns was never more than third rate. 

Moody was by far the most imposing figure between Finney and 
Billy Sunday. The son of a poor brickmason in Northfield, Massa 
chusetts, he lost his father at an early age, and was converted at 
eighteen by a Congregational pastor who had been an itinerant evan- 

2 Wesley M. Gewehr: The Great Awakening in Virginia, 27401790 (Durham, 
North Carolina, 1930 ), p. ^256. 

s For efforts in behalf of education, see Posey: op. cit., chapter 8. 

107 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

gelist. In his early twenties Moody was already involved in the religious 
and welfare activity that had begun in the cities in the decade before 
the Civil War. Although very successful as a wholesale shoe salesman 
in Chicago, he decided in 1860 to give up business for independent 
mission work. During the war he was active in the Y.M.C.A., and soon 
after the war s end he became president of the Chicago branch. Un 
schooled since his thirteenth year, he never sought ordination, and 
never became a minister. 

Before 1873, Moody s main achievements were in Y.M.C.A. and 
Sunday-school work, though he had demonstrated enterprise and curi 
osity by twice making trips to Great Britain to look into the methods 
of Christian leaders there. In 1873 he had his first major success when 
he was invited by British acquaintances to come and conduct a series of 
evangelical meetings. Taking with him his organist and singer, Ira E>. 
Sankey, he launched in the summer of 1873 upon a two-year series of 
meetings that brought him to York, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, 
Dublin, Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Liverpool, and London. It 
was estimated that over two and a half millions heard Moody in Lon 
don alone. Britain had not known such impressive preaching since the 
days of Wesley and Whitefield. He had left America in obscurity, and 
he returned in the full blaze of fame; from 1875 to his death in 1899 he 
was not only the unchallenged leader of a new phase in American 
evangelism but the greatest figure in American Protestantism. 

Moody was quite unlike Finney. Whereas Finney overwhelmed 
audiences with an almost frightening power, Moody was a benign and 
lovable man, much happier holding out the promise of heaven than 
warning of the torments of hell. Short, corpulent, and full-bearded, he 
resembled General Grant, and the resemblance was more than physi 
cal. Like Grant, Moody was inordinately simple, yet of powerful will; 
and his sieges of souls showed some of the same determined capacity 
for organization that went into the siege of Vicksburg. Like Grant, he 
could bring overwhelming superiority in force to bear at the point of 
weakness, until resistance wore down. Like Grant, he hid his intensity 
behind an unpretentious fagade. Here the resemblance ends- Grant 
did what he had to do, in spite of an inner lack of confidence; he had 
been lost in the business world before his war career and he was to be 
lost again in politics afterwards. Moody s self-confidence was enormous. 
He had been well on his way toward a fortune when, still very young, 
he gave up business for religion; and it is hard to imagine him failing 
in any practical sphere of life in which endurance, shrewdness, 


decision, simple manliness, and a human touch were the prime requi 
sites. He was immensely ignorant ignorant even of grammar, as critics 
of his sermons were forever saying; but he knew his Bible and he knew 
his audiences. Unsensational, untiring, he repeatedly confronted them 
with his inevitable question; ~Are you a Christian?" and swept them 
along toward salvation with breathless torrents of words uttered in a 
voice that easily filled the huge auditoriums in which he flourished. 

Moody s message was broad and nondenominational it is signifi 
cant that he had the endorsement at one time or another of practically 
every denomination except the Roman Catholics, the Unitarians, and 
the Universalists 4 and he cared not a whit for the formal discussion 
of theological issues ("My theology! I didn t know I had any. I wish 
you would tell me what my theology is."). 5 The knowledge, the culture, 
the science of his time meant nothing to him, and when he touched 
upon them at all, it was with a note as acid as he was ever likely to 
strike. In this respect, he held true to the dominant evangelical tradi 
tion. Although he had no desire to undermine the established ministry 
or its training, he cordially approved of laymen in religious work and 
felt that seminary-educated ministers "are often educated away from 
the people." 6 He denigrated all education that did not serve the pur 
poses of religion f or secular education, he said, instead of telling men 
what a bad lot they are, flatters them and tells them "how angelic they 
are because they have some education. An educated rascal is the 
meanest kind of rascal." Aside from the Bible, he read almost nothing. 
"I have one rule about books. I do not read any book, unless it will 
help me to understand the book." Novels? They were "flashy. ... I 
have no taste for them, no desire to read them; but if I did I would not 
do it." The theater? "You say it is part of one s education to see good 
plays. Let that kind of education go to the four winds." Culture? It is 
"all right in its place," but to speak of it before a man is born of God is 
"the height of madness." Learning? An encumbrance to the man of 
spirit: "I would rather have zeal without knowledge; and there is a 
good deal of knowledge without zeal." Science? It had become, by 
Moody s time, a threat to religion rather than a means for the discovery 
and glorification of God. "It is a great deal easier to believe that man 
was made after the image of God than to believe, as some young men 

4 McLoughlin: Modern Revivalism, pp. 

5 Gamaliel Bradford: D. L. Moody: A Worker in Souls (New York, 19^27), p. 61. 

6 McLoughlin: Modern Revivalism, p. 2,73. 

log Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

and women are being taught now, that he is the offspring of a mon 
key r 7 

True to the evangelical tradition in his attitude toward intellect and 
culture, Moody nevertheless marked for his generation a new depar 
ture in the history of revivalism, a departure not from goals or attitudes 
but from methods. In the days of Jonathan Edwards and his con 
temporaries, it had been customary to look upon revivals as the con 
sequence of divine visitations. Edwards had referred to the Northamp 
ton revival, in the title of his first great work, as a "surprising work of 
God"; and it was the adjective here that suggested the Northampton 
preacher s conception that the affair was not altogether in the control 
of human will. Whitefield, one surmises, knew better; as a veteran 
promoter of revivals, he must have had more than an inkling that 
human will had something to do with it. The preferred theory, none 
the less, was that divine intervention was the essential active agent and 
that the human will was relatively passive. By the time of Finney, this 
notion was in decline, and the voluntarism characteristic of the Ameri- 
can evangelical tradition was in the ascendant. "Religion is the work of 
man" Finney insisted. It is true, he admitted, that God interposes his 
spirit to make men obey His injunctions. But the spirit is always at 
work it is, as we would now say, a constant; the human response is the 
variable. Revivals take place when the human will rises to the oc 
casion. A revival of religion, Finney asserted, "is not a miracle, or de 
pendent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result 
of the right use of the constituted means." Hence, it was false and 
slothful to sit and wait for the miraculous reoccurrence of revivals. "You 
see why you have not a revival. It is only because you don t want 
one." 8 

Finney* s Lectures on Revivals of Religion were wholly devoted to 
showing what the right means were and how revivals could be pro 
duced, so to speak, at will. But it is noteworthy that the means about 
which Finney was speaking were not simply mechanical; they were 
not mere techniques; they were a series of instructions as to how the 
heart, the mind, and the will could all be marshaled to the great end 
of reviving religion. Here is where Moody and his generation, adapting 

7 Bradford: Moody, pp. 24, 25-6, 30, 35, 37, 64, 

8 Lectures on Revivals of Religion., pp. 9, 12, 3^. I have hardly done justice to 
the full range of Finney s argument for the role of human agency in bringing about 
revivals; it is stated cogently in the first chapter of his book. 


revivalism to the spirit of the new industrial age, made their departure. 
It would be impertinent to suggest that a man of Moody s force and 
sincerity lacked the necessary inward psychic resources; but it is im 
portant to note that he added something else the techniques of 
business organization. Finney s revivalism belonged to the age of An 
drew Jackson and Lyman Beecher; Moody s belonged to the age of 
Andrew Carnegie and P. T. Barnum. 

Finney*s revivals, though carefully planned, had been conducted 
without much apparatus. Moody s brought an imposing machinery 
into play. 9 Advance agents were sent to arrange invitations from 
local evangelical ministers. Advertising campaigns were launched, 
requiring both display posters and newspaper notices (the latter in 
serted in the amusement pages). Churches, even the largest, could 
no longer seat the crowds. Large auditoriums had to be found, and 
where there were none they had to be erected. If temporary, they 
were afterwards sold and scrapped for what they would bring. The 
building for Moody s Boston meetings cost $32,000. To defray his 
imposing expenses a series of meetings in one city might require 
from $30,000 (New York) to $140,000 (London) finance commit 
tees were established; through them the resources of local businessmen 
could be tapped. But Moody did not have to depend only upon small 
businessmen. Cyrus McCormick and George Armour helped him in 
Chicago, Jay Cooke and John Wanamaker in Philadelphia, J. P. Mor 
gan and Cornelius Vanderbilt II in New York. The meetings re 
quired staffs of local ushers to handle the crowds, staffs of assistants 
for follow-ups on the spiritual condition of Moody s converts in after- 
sermon "inquiry" sessions. Then there were the arrangements for the 
music Sankey s singing and his organ, the recruitment of teams of 
local singers for choirs of from 600 to 1,000 persons for each city. Like 
almost anything else in business, the results of Moody s meetings be 
came the object of measurement. At first Moody himself objected to 
making estimates of the numbers of souls saved 3,000, they said, 
in London, 2,500 in Chicago, 3,5 in New York but in later years he 
began to use "decision cards" to record systematically the names and 
addresses of those who came to the inquiry room. 

Finney, we have seen, was proud that some of his legal training car 
ried over into his most rational sermons. Perhaps less self-consciously, 

9 See the excellent account of Moody s revival machinery, in McLoughlin: 
Modern Revivalism, chapter 5, "Old Fashioned Revival with the Modern Improve 

in Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

Moody *s preaching revealed his early business experience. At times he 
talked like a salesman of salvation. He seemed still to be selling a 
product when he mounted a chair at an "inquiry" meeting to say: 
"Wholl take Christ now? That s all you want. With Christ you have 
eternal life and everything else you need. Without Him you must 
perish. He offers Himself to you. Who ll take Him?" x Or when he was 
heard to say: "If a man wants a coat he wants to get the best coat he 
can for the money. This is the law the world around. If we show men 
that religion is better than anything else, we shall win the world," 
one can only concur with the judgment of Gamaliel Bradford that 
this is "the dialect of the shoe-trade/ 2 The point was not lost on con 
temporaries. "As he stood on the platform/* Lyman Abbott wrote of 
Moody, "he looked like a business man; he dressed like a business 
man; he took the meeting in hand as a business man would; he spoke 
in a business man s fashion." 3 

Whereas Finney had been a radical on at least one major social is 
sue, that of slavery, Moody was consistently conservative; the union 
between the evangelical and the business mind which was to char 
acterize subsequent popular revivalists was, to a great extent, his work. 
His political views invariably resembled those of the Republican 
businessmen who supported him, and he was not above making it 
clear how useful the Gospel was to the propertied interests. "I say to 
the rich men of Chicago, their money will not be worth much if com 
munism and infidelity sweep the land/ Again: There can be no bet 
ter investment for the capitalists of Chicago than to put the saving salt 
of the Gospel into these dark homes and desperate centers. . . ." But 
it would be wrong to suggest that he was pandering. His conservatism 
was a reflection of his pre-millennialist beliefs, which in him engen 
dered a thoroughgoing social pessimism. Man was naturally and thor 
oughly bad, and nothing was to be expected of him on earth. "I have 
heard of reform, reform, until I am tired and sick of the whole thing. 
It is regeneration by the power of the Holy Ghost that we need/ As a 
consequence, Moody showed no patience for any kind of sociological 
discussion. 4 Man was, and always had been, a failure in all his works: 
The true task was to get as many souls as possible off the sinking ship 
of this world. 

1 Bernard Weisberger: They Gathered at the River, p. 

2 Op. cit., p. 243- 

8 Silhouettes of My Contemporaries (New York, 1921), p. 2,00. 
4 McLoughlin: Modern Revivalism, pp. 167, 2,69, 2,78; Bradford: op. cit., 
pp. 3301. 


. 7 

In one important respect, the revivalism of Moody s era had to be more 
controlled than its predecessors. The "enthusiastic" manifestations of 
the old-time revivals the shriekings, groanings, faintings, howlings, 
and barkings were now inadmissible. It was not merely that pietism 
had grown more restrained, but that the city revivals took place un 
der the critical eye of the urban press and nothing could be allowed to 
happen that would lose the sympathetic interest of the public. The 
loss of control that had been permissible in village churches and at 
camp meetings might also have created dangerous scenes in the huge 
auditoriums of the big-time revivals. The most intelligent sympathizers 
of revivals had always found the extreme manifestations of enthusiasm 
an embarrassment. Finney, though he regularly induced them, thought 
of them as necessary encumbrances and evils. Moody, determined to 
have done with them, would interrupt a sermon to have ushers re 
move a disturbed member of the audience. Even an excess of 
"Am ens" or "Hallelujahs" would bring him to call out: "Never mind, my 
friend, I can do all the hollering/ 5 His successor, Billy Sunday, believ 
ing that "a man can be converted without any fuss," held a stern hand 
over audiences, and instructed ushers to throw out disorderly mani- 
festants. "Two can t wind jam at once, brother; let me do it," he once 
yelled. And on another occasion: "Just a minute, sister, hold your 
sparker back and save a little gasoline." 6 Decorum of a sort was to 
be kept; and there must be no distractions from the performance of the 

Although the conditions of city evangelism demanded restraint in 
audiences, they seem to have released the preachers. For the historian 
of popular sensibilities, one of the most arresting aspects of the de 
velopment of evangelicalism is the decline of the sermon from the 
vernacular to the vulgar. The conception that preaching should be 
plain, unaffected, unlearned, and unadorned, so that it would reach 
and move simple people, had always been central to pietism. Fin 
ney had argued that the truly good sermon, like the truly good life, 
would be trimmed of elegance and pretense. He had spoken movingly 
for the vernacular style in sermons, and preferred the extemporane- 

5 McLoughlin: Modern Revivalism, p. 245; c. Bradford: op. cit., p. 

6 McLoughlin: Modern Revivalism, p. 4334; also Bitty Sunday Was His Real 
Name, pp. 1278. 

H3 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

ous to the written sermon because spontaneous utterance would be 
more direct and closer to common speech. When men are entirely in 
earnest, he said, "their language is in point, direct and simple. Their 
sentences are short, cogent, powerful/ They appeal to action and get 
results. "This is the reason why, formerly, the ignorant Methodist 
preachers, and the earnest Baptist preachers produced so much more 
effect than our most learned theologians and divines. They do so 
now." 7 

One can hardly resist the cogency of Finney s pleas for the vernacu 
lar sermon. Is there not, after all, an element of the vernacular In most 
good preaching? One thinks, for example, of Luther visualizing the 
Nativity for his listeners with the utmost directness and intimacy: 8 

Bad enough that a young bride married only a year could not 
have had her baby at Nazareth in her own house instead of mak 
ing all that journey of three days when heavy with child! . . . 
The birth was still more pitiable. No one regarded this young wif e 
bringing forth her first-born. No one took her condition to heart. 
. . . There she was without preparation: no light, no fire, in the 
dead of night, in thick darkness. ... I think myself if Joseph and 
Mary had realized that her time was so close she might perhaps 
have been left in Nazareth. . . . Who showed the poor girl what 
to do? She had never had a baby before. I am amazed that the lit 
tle one did not freeze. 

Perhaps, too, the plain style of Finney s own utterance was no more 
than an inheritance from the best Puritan preaching. Surely the great 
est image in the history of American preaching was Jonathan Ed- 
wards s image of the soul as a spider held over the fire in the kitchen 
stove, suspended by a silken thread at the mercy of God. And is it not 
the vernacular note itself which has given American literature much 
of its originality and distinction? 

All true enough, and justification enough for Finney s own concep 
tion of the sermon. The problem for later evangelism was to stabilize 
the vernacular style at some point before it would merely confirm, or 

7 Memoirs, pp. 90-1. Finney s conception of preaching is expounded at length to 
Lectures on Revivals of Religion, chapter 12. Among his rules for the manner of 
ministerial discourse were these: "It should be conversational." "It must be in the 
language of common life." It should be parabolical that is, illustrations should be 
drawn from real or supposed incidents of common life, and "from the common 
business of society/ It should be repetitious, but without monotony. 

8 Roland H. Bainton: Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York and 
Nashville, 1940), p. 354- 


even exaggerate, the coarsest side of popular sensibility. A contem 
porary of Finney s, Jabez Swan, was no doubt merely adding a racy 
colloquial touch when he described Jonah s fish in these terms: 9 

The great fish splashed, foamed, and pitched up and down, here 
and there, and everywhere, to get rid of his burden. At length, 
growing more and more sick, as well he might, he made for the 
shore and vomited the nauseous dose out of his mouth. 

Moody s preaching, spilled out at 220 words a minute, was colloquial 
without being coarse, though Moody, as befitted his time, introduced a 
heavy note of sentimentality that Finney might have found strange. 
Like Finney, Moody was impatient with what he called "essay preach 
ing/* "It is a stupid thing to try to be eloquent," he said. 1 Conventional 
audiences were put off by his f olkish informality ( "Everyone is going 
to be disappointed in these meetings if he ain t quickened himself") 
and the London Saturday Review found him "simply a ranter of the 
most vulgar type. 9 2 But in the main, his sermons stopped short of 
vulgarity. Younger contemporaries, such as Sam Jones, were striking a 
broader and more aggressive tone: "Half of the literary preachers in 
this town are A.B/s, Ph.D s, D.D/s, LL.D/s, and A.S.S/s." "If anyone 
thinks he can t stand the truth rubbed in a little thicker and faster 
than he ever had it before, he d better get out of here." 3 It was this 
note, and not Moody s, that was to be imitated by Billy Sunday. 

With the arrival of Billy Sunday, whose career as an evangelist spans 
the years 1896 to 1935, one reaches the nadir in evangelical rhetoric. 
By comparison, a contemporary of ours like Billy Graham seems aston 
ishingly proper and subdued. Sunday s career in some ways parallels 
Moody s. His father had been an Iowa bricklayer who died in the 
Union Army in 1862. Sunday had a rather poverty-stricken country 
boyhood, left high school before graduating, and was picked up in 
1883 by a scout for the Chicago White Stockings baseball team. From 
1883 to 1891, Sunday made his living as a ballplayer. His later career 
sounds as though one of the ineffable egomaniac outfielders of Ring 
Lardner s stories had got religion and turned to evangelism. Like 
Moody, Billy Sunday went into evangelical work through the Y.M.C.A. 

& McLoughlin: Modern Revivalism., p. 140. 

1 Bradford: op. cit., p. 101. On his preaching style, see also McLoughlin: 
Modern Revivalism, pp. 239 ff.; there is a wide range of illustrative matter in 
J. Wilbur Chapman: The Life and Work of Dtoight L. Moody (Boston, 1900). 

2 Bradford: op. cit., p. 103. 

8 McLoughlin: Modern Revivalism, p. 288. 

ii5 Evangelicalism and the Revivalists 

A convert in 1886, he began to give Y.M.C.A. talks, worked as a 
Y.M.C.A. secretary after leaving baseball, and started preaching in 
1896. Unlike Moody, who accepted his own lay status, Sunday hun 
gered for ordination, and in 1903 faced a board of examiners of the 
Chicago Presbytery. After a series of answers in the general tenor of 
"That s too deep for me," the examination was waived on the ground 
that Sunday had already made more converts than all his examiners, 
and he was elevated to the ministry without further inquiry. 

After 1906 Sunday left the small towns of the Midwest, where he 
had his early successes, and began to reach the medium-sized towns. 
By 1909 he was an established big-time evangelist in the major cities, 
the heir to Moody s mantle. In one way or another, political leaders 
like Bryan, Wilson, and Theodore Roosevelt gave him their blessings; 
tycoons opened their coffers to him, as they had to Moody; the re 
spectable world found him respectable; and millions came to hear him. 
In 1914 the readers of the American Magazine, responding to a poll 
on the question: "Who is the greatest man in the United States?" put 
hfrn in eighth place, tied with Andrew Carnegie. He conducted his 
evangelical enterprise in most external respects in a manner similar to 
Moody s; but there were two important differences. Moody had 
needed and sought the invitations of local ministers; Sunday went 
further and often bulldozed reluctant clerics until they fell in line. And 
Moody had lived comfortably but without great wealth, whereas Sun 
day became a millionaire, and replied to critics of the cost of his re 
vivals by saying: "What I m paid for my work makes it only about $2 
a soul, and I get less proportionately for the number I convert than any 
other living evangelist/ Both men were immensely businesslike, but 
Moody s personal indulgence was limited to heavy meals, and Sunday 
wore ostentatious clothes. With his striped suits, hard collars, diamond 
pins and studs, shiny patent-leather shoes, and spats, he resembled a 
hardware drummer out to make time with the girls. Like Moody, he 
had his musical accompanist, Homer A. Rodeheaver; but Sankey had 
sung sweetly, and Rodeheaver began to jazz the hymns. 4 

Finney would have marveled at Sunday s style, and at the elements 
of entertainment in the work of this revivalist, who hired a circus 
giant as a doorman, broke into broad imitations of his contem 
poraries (one of Finney s most solemn injunctions had been against 
levity), shed his coat and vest during a heated sermon, and punctuated 

4 On Sunday s life, see William G. McLoughlin s thorough and perceptive 
biography: Billy Sunday Was His Real Name. 


bis harangues with feats of physical agility on the platform. Sunday 
-was proud of his slanginess. "What do I care if some puff-eyed little 
dibbly-dibbly preacher goes tibbly-tibbling around because I use plain 
Anglo-Saxon words? I want people to know what I mean and that s 
why I try to get down where they live.** Literary preachers, he said, 
tried "to please the highbrows and in pleasing them miss the masses/ 
The language used by Moody, simple though it was, lacked savor 
enough for Sunday. Moody had said: "The standard of the Church is 
so low that it does not mean much." Sunday asserted: "The bars of the 
Church are so low that any old hog with two or three suits of clothes 
and a bank roll can crawl through." Moody had been content with: 
~We don t want intellect and money-power, but the power of God s 
word." Sunday elaborated: "The church in America would die of dry 
rot and sink forty-nine fathoms in hell if all members were multimil 
lionaires and college graduates/ 5 

Classic folkish preaching had tried to treat Biblical stories in realistic 
intimacy; Sunday had the powers of darkness and light talking in cur 
rent small-town lingo. In his sermons the Devil tempted Jesus with 
these words: "Turn some of these stones into bread and get a square 
meal! Produce the goods!" and he told the miracle of the loaves in this 

But Jesus looked around and spied a little boy whose ma had 
given him five biscuits and a couple of sardines for his lunch, and 
said to him, "Come here, son, the Lord wants you/ Then He told 
the lad what He wanted, and the boy said, "It isn t much, Jesus, 
but what there is you re mighty welcome to it." 

Those who were appalled in the 1920*5 by the vulgarity of Bruce Bar 
ton s The Man Nobody Knows may not have realized how much Sun 
day had done to pave the way for Barton s portrayal of Christ as a go- 
getter: "Jesus could go some; Jesus Christ could go like a six-cylinder 
engine, and if you think Jesus couldn t, you re dead wrong." He felt it 
important also to establish the point that Jesus "was no dough-faced, 
lick-spittle proposition. Jesus was the greatest scrapper that ever 
lived." 6 

5 McLoughlin: Billy Sunday, pp. 164, 169. 

6 Weisberger: They Gathered at the River, p. 248; McLoughlin : Billy Sunday, 
pp. 177, 179. Sunday s language here expresses a new violence of expression, very 
common among the clergy during the First World War. See Ray H. Abrams: 
Preachers Present Arms ( New York, 1933 ) . 

[ H7 1 


The Revolt against 


ILLY SUNDAY S rhetorical coarseness was a surface phenomenon, 
less important for itself than for what it revealed about the position of 
evangelism in his time. Underlying the slang and the vulgarity was a 
desperately embattled spirit that would have been quite unfamiliar to 
Finney or Moody. It is true that these earlier evangelists were also em 
battled embattled with the forces of hell, and militant in the saving 
of souls. But Sunday was embattled in addition and at times one sus 
pects even primarily with the spirit of modernism. Quite aside from 
purely personal temperament, which has its importance too, his tone 
derives its significance and popularity from the travail of fundamen 
talism in a waning phase of its history. 

As we move into the twentieth century, we find the evangelical tra 
dition rapidly approaching a crisis. The first part of this crisis was 
internal: it was no longer possible to put off or avoid a choice between 
the old religious ways and modernism, since the two had come into 
more open and more universal confrontation. Fundamentalists, both 
lay and clerical, were anguished to see a large portion of the great 
evangelical denominations, the Baptists and Methodists, succumb at 
least in part to modernist ideas, and their resentment against these 
defectors added to their bitterness. The second part was external: 
secular challenges to religious orthodoxy were older than the nation 
itself, but the force of Darwinism, combined with the new urban style, 


gave such challenges an unprecedented force. Moreover, the expand 
ing education and the mobility of the whole country, and the develop 
ment of a nationwide market in ideas, made it increasingly difficult for 
the secular, liberated thought of the intelligentsia and the scriptural 
faith of the fundamentalists to continue to move in separate grooves. 
So long as secularism in its various manifestations was an elite affair, 
fundamentalists could either ignore it or look upon it as a convenient 
scapegoat for militant sermons. But now the two were thrown into 
immediate and constant combat this was the first consequence for 
religion of the development of a mass culture, and of its being thrown 
into contact with high culture. 

I do not want to suggest that a kind of quiet religious withdrawal 
from the mental environment of secular culture ceased to be possible; 
but for many combative types it ceased to be desirable. Religion, for 
many individuals or groups, may be an expression of serene belief, 
personal peace, and charity of mind. But for more militant spirits it 
may also be a source or an outlet for animosities. There is a militant 
type of mind to which the hostilities involved in any human situation 
seem to be its most interesting or valuable aspect; some individuals 
live by hatred as a kind of creed, and we can follow their course 
through our own history in the various militant anti-Catholic move 
ments, in anti-Masonry, and a variety of crank enthusiasms. There are 
both serene and militant fundamentalists; and it is hard to say which 
group is the more numerous. My concern here is with the militants, 
who have thrown themselves headlong into the revolt against mod 
ernism in religion and against modernity in our culture in general. We 
are here dealing, then, with an ever smaller but still far from minus 
cule portion of the whole body of the evangelical tradition a type 
which has found that it can compensate with increasing zeal and enter 
prise for the shrinkage in its numbers. 

The two new notes which are evident in a most striking form in Billy 
Sunday s rhetoric, the note of toughness and the note of ridicule and 
denunciation, may be taken as the signal manifestations of a new kind 
of popular mind. One can trace in Sunday the emergence of what I 
would call the one-hundred per cent mentality a mind totally com 
mitted to the full range of the dominant popular fatuities and deter 
mined that no one shall have the right to challenge them. This type of 
mentality is a relatively recent synthesis of fundamentalist religion 
and fundamentalist Americanism, very often with a heavy overlay of 

iig The Revolt against Modernity 

severe fundamentalist morality. 1 The one-hundred percenter, who will 
tolerate no ambiguities, no equivocations, no reservations, and no criti 
cism, considers his kind of committedness an evidence of toughness 
and masculinity. One observer remarked of Sunday that no man of the 
time, "not even Mr. Roosevelt himself, has insisted so much on his 
personal, militant masculinity." Jesus was a scrapper, and his disciple 
Sunday would destroy the notion that a Christian must be "a sort of 
dishrag proposition, a wishy-washy sissified sort of galoot that lets 
everybody make a doormat out of him/ "Lord save us from off-handed, 
flabby-cheeked, brittle-boned, weak-kneed, thin-skinned, pliable, plas 
tic, spineless, effeminate ossified three-karat Christianity." Sunday 
wanted to kill the idea "that being a Christian takes a man out of the 
busy whirl of the world s life and activity and makes him a spineless, 
effeminate proposition." He struck a Rooseveltian note in his assertion : 
"Moral warfare makes a man hard. Superficial peace makes a man 
mushy"; and he summed up his temper when he confessed: "I have no 
interest in a God who does not smite." 2 

To assess the historical significance of this growing militancy, let us 
go back to the earlier history of the evangelical movement.; Sidney E. 
Mead has remarked that, after about 1800, "Americans have in effect 
been given the hard choice between being intelligent according to the 
standards prevailing in their intellectual centers, and being religious 
according to the standards prevailing in their denominations." 3 But 
this choice was not nearly so clear nor the problem so acute after 1800 
as it was after 1860, and particularly after 1900. Up to about 1800 there 
was, as Mead himself has pointed out, a kind of informal understand 
ing between the pietist and the rationalist mind, based chiefly on a 
common philanthropism and on a shared passion for religious liberty. 
One thinks, for example, of Benjamin Franklin listening to Whitefield s 
preaching in Philadelphia, emptying his pockets for the support of one 

1 Very commonly a sexual fundamentalism thoroughgoing in its fear both of 
normal sex and of deviation is linked with the other two. One frequently gets 
the feeling from later fundamentalist sermons that they were composed for 
audiences terrified of their own sexuality. It would be instructive in this respect to 
trace the treatment of dancing and prostitution in evangelical literature. Sunday 
felt that "the swinging of corners in the square dance brings the position of the 
bodies in such attitude that it isn t tolerated in decent society," and proposed a law 
preventing children over twelve from attending dancing schools and another 
prohibiting dancing xmtil after marriage. McLoughlin: Billy Sunday, pp. 132, 142. 

2 McLoughlin: Billy Sunday, pp. 141-2, 175, 179. 

8 "Dcnominationalism: the Shape of Protestantism in America," p. 3*4 


o the Awakener s favored charities, and, after the regular clergy had 
refused their pulpits to Whitefield, contributing to the erection of a 
meeting house that would be available to any preacher. This rap 
prochement between pietism and rationalism reached a peak at the 
time of Jefferson s presidency, when the dissenting groups, notably the 
Baptists, gladly threw their support behind a man who, rationalist or 
not, stood so firmly for religious freedom. 4 

It is true, of course, that in the lygo s, when the influence of Deism 
reached its peak in America, there was a great deal of frightened talk 
about the incursions of infidelity. These alarms mainly affected the 
members of the established denominations whose colleges and defect 
ing believers were involved. 5 It is also true that Voltaire and Tom 
Paine served as whipping boys for preachers during the revivals that 
broke out after 1795. 6 But most early evangelists were far too realistic 
to imagine that a learned and intellectually self-conscious skepticism 
was a real menace to the simple public they were trying to reach. 
They knew that the chief enemy was not rationalism but religious 
indifference, that their most important work was not with people who 
had been exposed to Tom Paine s assaults on the Bible but with those 
who had never been exposed to the Bible. As evangelicals made in 
creasingly impressive gains from 1795 to 1835, and as Deism lapsed 
into relative quiescence, the battle between pietism and rationalism 
fell into the background. There was much more concern among 
evangelicals with rescuing the vast American interior from the twin 

4 See, for instance, on the Republicanism o New England Baptists, William A. 
Robinson: Jeffersonian Democracy in New England (New Haven, 1916) 
gp, 128-41. 

5 The most vivid account of the hysteria over revolution and infidelity that fol 
lowed) the French Revolution is that of Vernon Stauffer in New England and the 
Bavarian Illuminati (New York, 1918). Although a gentle variety of philosophical 
skepticism was indeed widespread among the American elite at the close of the 
eighteenth century, it was mainly a private creed without any bent toward prose 
lytizing. After the French Revolution and the rise of Jeffersonian democracy, upper- 
class rationalists were less disposed than ever to propagate their rationalism among 
the public. A cnisading skeptic like Elihu Palmer, who wanted to unite re 
publicanism and skepticism for the middle and lower classes, found it very hard 
going, though there were a few Deistic societies in Now York, Philadelphia, 
Baltimore, and Newburgh, See G. Adolph Koch: Republican Religion (New 
York, 1933). 

Catherine C. Cleveland: The Great Revival in the West, z797-3.8os (Chicago, 
1916), p. 111. Martin E. Marty, in The Infidel (Cleveland, 1961), argues that 
infidelity was much too weak in America to be of grave importance in itself, but 
that it became important as a scare word in the orthodox sermon and in theological 
recriminations between the religious groups. 

The Revolt against Modernity 

evils of Romanism and religious apathy than there was with dispel 
ling the rather faint afterglow of the Enlightenment. 

After the Civil War, all this changed, and rationalism once more took 
an important place among the foes of the evangelical mind. The com 
ing of Darwinism, with its widespread and pervasive influence upon 
every area of thinking, put orthodox Christianity on the defensive; 
and the impact of Darwinism was heightened by modern scholarly 
Biblical criticism among the learned ministry and among educated 
laymen. Finally, toward the end of the century, the problems of indus 
trialism and the urban churches gave rise to a widespread movement 
for a social gospel, another modernist tendency* Ministers and laymen 
alike now had to choose between fundamentalism and modernism; 
between conservative Christianity and the social gospel. 

As time went on, a great many clerics including a substantial num 
ber with evangelical sympathies became liberal. 7 Those who did not 
found themselves in the distressing situation of having to live in the 
same world with a small minority of rationalist skeptics, and of seeing 
constant defections from orthodox Christianity to modernism: from a 
Christianity essentially bound up with the timeless problem of salva 
tion to one busied with such secular things as labor unions, social set 
tlements, and even the promotion of socialism. By the end of the cen 
tury it was painfully clear to fundamentalists that they were losing 
much of their influence and respectability. One can now discern among 
them the emergence of a religious style shaped by a desire to strike 
back against everything modern the higher criticism, evolutionism, 
the social gospel, rational criticism of any kind. In this union of social 
and theological reaction, the foundation was laid for the one hundred 
per cent mentality. 

The gradual stiffening can be seen in a comparison of Moody and his 
most prominent successor. Moody s views were akin to those later 
called fundamentalist, but his religious style had already been formed 
by the early iS/o s, when the incursions of modernism were still largely 
restricted to highbrow circles. His references to the emerging con 
flict between fundamentalism and modernism were determined partly 
by his personal benignity and partly by the general state of the conflict 
itself in his formative years. The Bible is the inspired word of God, he 

7 On divergent patterns in the ministry, see Robert S, Michaelson: "The Protes 
tant Ministry in America: 1850 to the Present," in H. Richard Niebuhr and 
D. D, Williams: op. cit., pp. 250-88. 


insisted; there is nothing in it that is not wise, nothing that is not 
good, and any attempt to undermine any part of it is the Devil s work. 
"If there was one portion of the Scripture untrue, the whole of it went 
for nothing." It was still possible simply to dismiss science, and even 
rational efforts to interpret the Bible "the Bible was not made to 
understand." Talk about figurative language and symbolic meanings 
made him impatient. "That s just the way men talk now and just fig 
ure away everything." s For all this, there was a notable freedom from 
bigotry and militancy in Moody s utterances. He preferred to keep 
peace with those religious liberals whom he respected; he was glad to 
have them at his Northfield Conferences, and he disliked hearing 
them called infidels by other conservatives. It is indicative of the char 
acter of his inheritance that of the two educational centers founded 
under his auspices, one, the Moody Bible Institute at Chicago, later 
became fundamentalist, whereas the other, Northfield Seminary in 
Massachusetts, became modernist; both claimed that they were carry 
ing on in the spirit of Moody s work. 

With Sunday it was quite another matter. He brooked no suggestion 
that fundamentalism was not thoroughgoing, impregnable, and tough. 
He turned his gift for invective as unsparingly on the higher criticism 
and on evolution as on everything else that displeased him. ^There is 
a hell and when the Bible says so don t you bo so black-hearted, low- 
down, and degenerate as to say you don t believe it, you big fool!" 
Again: "Thousands of college graduates are going as fast as they can 
straight to hell. If I had a million dollars I d give $999,999 to the church 
and $1 to education." "When the word of God says one thing and 
scholarship says another, scholarship can go to hell!" 9 

The note of petulance became increasingly shrilL The challenge to 
orthodoxy had grown too formidable and penetrated too many focal 
centers of social power and respectability to be taken lightly. Presuma 
bly, the fundamentalists themselves wore afflicted on occasion by 
nagging doubts about the adequacy of their faith, which was now be 
ing questioned everywhere. As Reinhold Nicbuhr has remarked: "Ex 
treme orthodoxy betrays by its very frenzy that the poison of skepti- 

McLoughlin: Billij Sunday, pp. 135, 132, 138. 

8 Bradford: op. cit., pp. 58-60; McLoughlin: Modern Revivalism, p. 213; on 
Moody s pragmatic tolerance, see pp. 2756. 

The Revolt against Modernity 

cism has entered the soul of the church; for men insist most 
vehemently upon their certainties when their hold upon them has been 
shaken. Frantic orthodoxy is a method for obscuring doubt." a 

The feeling that rationalism and modernism could no longer be an 
swered in debate led to frantic efforts to overwhelm them by sheer 
violence of rhetoric and finally by efforts at suppression and intimida 
tion which reached a climax in the anti-evolution crusade of the 
1920*5. The time had come, as Sunday himself asserted in a sermon of 
that decade, when "America is not a country for a dissenter to live 
in." 2 But unfortunately for the fundamentalists, they had become the 
dissenters; they lacked the power to intimidate and suppress their 
critics; they were afloat on a receding wave of history. Even within the 
large evangelical denominations, they had lost much of their grip. 
Large numbers of Methodists, and of Baptists at least in the North, 
were themselves taken with religious liberalism. Having lost their 
dominance over the main body of evangelicism itself, many fundamen 
talists began to feel desperate. 

The 1920*5 proved to be the focal decade in the Kulturkampf of 
American Protestantism. Advertising, radio, the mass magazines, the 
advance of popular education, threw the old mentality into a direct 
and unavoidable conflict with the new. The older, rural and small 
town America, now fully embattled against the encroachments of mod 
ern life, made its most determined stand against cosmopolitanism, 
Romanism, and the skepticism and moral experimentalism of the intel 
ligentsia. In the Ku Klux Klan movement, the rigid defense of Prohibi 
tion, the Scopes evolution trial, and the campaign against Al Smith in 
192-8, the older America tried vainly to reassert its authority; but its 
only victory was the defeat of Smith, and even that was tarnished by 
his success in reshaping the Democratic Party as an urban and cosmo 
politan force, a success that laid the groundwork for subsequent Dem 
ocratic victories. 3 

One can hear in the anguished cries of the 1920*8 a clear awareness 
that the older American type was passe, and the accusation that it 

1 Docs Civilization Need Religion? (New York, 1927), pp. 2-3. I trust that it 
will bo clear to readers that my discussion deals with fundamentalism as a mass 
movement and not with the more thoughtful critics of modernism. For an example 
of the latter, see J. Grcsham Machen: Christianity and Liberalism (New York, 
i<)3). On the intellectual development of fundamentalism, see Stewart G. Cole: 
The History of Fundamentalism (New York, 1931). 

a McLoughlin: Billy Sunday, p. 378. 

a On this aspect of Smith s achievement, see my essay: "Could a Protestant 
Have Beaten Hoover in 1928?" The Reporter, Vol. SLZ (March 17, 1960), pp. 313- 


was the intelligentsia who were trying to kill it. In 1926 Hiram W. 
Evans, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, wrote a moving es 
say on the Klan s purposes, in which he portrayed the major issue of the 
time as a struggle between "the great mass of Americans of the old 
pioneer stock" and the "intellectually mongrelized Liberals/ " All the 
moral and religious values of the "Nordic Americans," he complained, 
were being undermined by the ethnic groups that had invaded the 
country, and were being openly laughed at by the liberal intellectuals. 
"We are a movement," Evans wrote, 4 

of the plain people, very weak in the matter of culture, intellec 
tual support, and trained leadership. We are demanding, and we 
expect to win, a return of power into the hands of the everyday, 
not highly cultured, not overly intellectualized, but entirely un 
spoiled and not de-Americanized, average citizen of the old stock. 
Our members and leaders are all of this class the opposition of 
the intellectuals and liberals who hold the leadership, betrayed 
Americanism, and from whom we expect to wrest control, is al 
most automatic. 

This is undoubtedly a weakness. It lays us open to the charge of 
being "hicks" and "rubes" and "drivers of second-hand Fords." We 
admit it. Far worse, it makes it hard for us to state our case and 
advocate our crusade in the most effective way, for most of us lack 
skill in language. . . . 

Every popular movement has suffered from just this handi 
cap. . . . 

The Klan does not believe that the fact that it is emotional and 
instinctive, rather than coldly intellectual, is a weakness. All ac- 

4 "The Klan s Fight for Americanism," North American Review, Vol. CCXXIII 
( March- April-May, 1926), pp. 38 fF. Cf. Gerald L. K. Smith in 1943: "Our people 
frequently do not express themselves because there are only a few of us who speak 
with abandon in times like this, but in the hearts of our people are pent-up emo 
tions which go unexpressed because they fear their vocabularies are insufficient." 
Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman: Prophets of Deceit (New York, 1949), 
p. no. 

This feeling that the American public is sound at heart but that spokesmen of 
the old American values somehow lack the means to compete with the smart- 
alecks of modernism runs through the utterances of the right wing. Gf. Senator 
Barry Goldwater in The Conscience of a Conservative (New York, 1960), 
pp. 45: "Our failure ... is the failure of the Conservative demonstration. 
Though we Conservatives . . . feel sure that the country agrees with us, we seem 
unable to demonstrate the practical relevance of Conservative principles to the 
needs of the day. . . . Perhaps we suffer from an over-sensitivity to the judgments 
of those who rule the mass communications media. We are daily consigned by 
enlightened commentators to political oblivion." 

Revolt against Modernity 

tion comes from emotion, rather than from ratiocination. Our emo 
tions and the instincts on which they are based have been bred 
into us for thousands of years; far longer than reason has had a 
place in the human brain. . . . They are the foundations of our 
American civilization, even more than our great historic docu 
ments; they can be trusted where the fine-haired reasoning of the 
denatured intellectuals cannot. 

This is not an altogether irrelevant statement of the case, and not 
immoderate in tone. The difficulty was to find any but immoderate 
means of putting it into action. On this count, the shabby history of the 
Klan speaks eloquently. So does the panic of the fundamentalists. The 
Georgia assemblyman who said: 

Read the Bible. It teaches you how to act. Read the hymn- 
book. It contains the finest poetry ever written. Read the almanac. 
It shows you how to figure out what the weather will be. There 
isn t another book that it is necessary for anyone to read, and 
therefore I am opposed to all libraries. 

may seem too obscure to be worth notice; but one can hardly say the 
same of a former Secretary of State and three-time candidate for the 
presidency who could proclaim, as Bryan did in a speech before 
Seventh-Day Adventists in 1924: "All the ills from which America 
suffers can be traced back to the teaching of evolution. It would be 
better to destroy every other book ever written, and save just the first 
three verses of Genesis." 5 

It was in the crusade against the teaching of evolution that the 
fundamentalist movement reached its climax and in the Scopes trial 
that it made its most determined stand. The trial afforded a perfect 
dramatization of everything at stake in the confrontation of the funda 
mentalist and the modernist mind. That the issue centered over the 
place of evolution in the public high school was itself evidence of the 
degree to which modernism had been brought down from the level of 
elite consciousness and made a part of popular experience. The battle 
over evolution in education had been fought out once before, in the 
colleges and universities, where conservative clergymen had tried 

* Bolh quotations are in Maynard Shipley: The War on Modern Science (New 
York, XQ27), pp. 330, 254-5, Such remarks are in the main tradition of evangelical 
ism, but they reflect its increasing shrillness in this period. Cf. the milder expression 
(if the pro-Civil War Methodist preacher, James B. Finley: "I have wondered if the 
grout multiplication of books has not had a deleterious tendency, in diverting the 
mind from the Bible." Autobiography (Cincinnati, 1854), P- 17*- 


during the three decades after 1860 to stem the tide of Darwinism. But 
there it had taken place at the elite level, and the inevitable losses 
sustained by the anti-evolutionists did not touch the vitals of the 
fundamentalists. Few of the true believers, after all> then attended 
college, and those who did could still seek out the backwater schools 
that had been kept pure from the infections of The Origin of Species. 
By the ig^o s, however, the teaching of evolution, moving down the 
educational ladder, had overtaken high schools, and the high schools 
had begun to reach the people. In the fifteen years before the First 
World War, the number of high schools had more than doubled, and 
this growth continued apace after the war. The high-school diploma 
was clearly becoming the point to which vast numbers of American 
children would be educated the point to which they must be edu 
cated if they were to be equipped for the scramble for success. Masses 
of pious and aspiring Americans were now beginning to feel that their 
children ought to go to high school, and to realize that they were all but 
certain to be menaced there by evolutionism. It was over the use of 
an evolutionist textbook, George Hunter s Civic Biology, that John T. 
Scopes came to trial in Tennessee. This book had been adopted by the 
state textbook commission in 1919 and had been in use in schools of the 
state as far back as 1909, fifteen years before it was found dangerous. 
To the fundamentalists of Tennessee and elsewhere, the effort to 
stop the teaching of evolution represented an effort to save the religion 
of their children indeed, to save all the family pieties from the 
ravages of the evolutionists, the intellectuals, the cosmopolitan^. 6 If the 
fundamentalists deserve any sympathy and I think they do it must 
be on this count. A good deal of their ferocity is understandable if one 
realizes that they saw (and still see) the controversy as a defense of 
their homes and families. John Washington Butler., the Primitive 
Baptist Tennessee legislator who introduced the law against the teach 
ing of evolution in that state, did so because he had heard of a young 
woman in his own community who had gone to a university and re 
turned an evolutionist. This set him to worrying about what would 

greatest menace to the public school system today is ... its Godless- 
ness," Bryan remarked in The Commoner, February, 1920, p. 11. Bryan was 
disturbed by the reports he kept receiving from parents throughout the country 
that the state schools were undermining the faith of their children. Memoirs 
(Chicago, 1925 ), p. 459. On this theme in the anti-evolutionist literature, see 
Norman F. Furniss: The Fundamentalist Controversy, 1918-1931 (New Haven, 
1954), pp. 44~5- 

The Revolt against Modernity 

happen to his own five children, and led at last to his success in 1925 in 
getting his wishes enacted into law in his state. "Save our children for 
God!" cried a member of the Tennessee Senate in the debate on 
Butler s bill. When Clarence Darrow said at Scopes s trial that "every 
child ought to be more intelligent than his parents," he was raising the 
specter that frightened the fundamentalists most. This was precisely 
what they did not want, if being more intelligent meant that children 
were expected to abandon parental ideas and desert parental ways. 
"Why, my friend," said William Jennings Bryan during the trial, "if 
they believe [evolution], they go back to scoff at the religion of their 
parents. And the parents have a right to say that no teacher paid by 
their money shall rob their children of faith in God and send them 
back to their homes, skeptical, infidels, or agnostics, or atheists." "Our 
purpose and our only purpose," he announced before the trial began, 
"is to vindicate the right of parents to guard the religion of their 
children. . . ." 7 To Bryan and his followers it was patent that Darrow 
was trying to pull apart the skeins of religion and family loyalties. 
"Damn you," said one Tennessean, shaking his fist under D arrow s 
nose, "don t you reflect on my mother s Bible. If you do I will tear you 
to pieces/ 8 , 

fit was appropriate that the national leadership of the anti-evolution 
crusade should have fallen to Bryan, a layman who combined in his 
person the two basic ancestral pieties of the people evangelical faith 
and populistic democracy. In his mind, faith and democracy con 
verged in a common anti-intellectualist rationale. On one side were 
the voices of the people and the truths of the heart; on the other were 
the intellectuals, a small arrogant elite given over to false science and 
mechanical rationalism variously described by him as a "scientific 
soviet" and a "little irresponsible oligarchy of self-styled intellec 
tuals/ " Religion, he pointed out, had never belonged exclusively to an 
elite: "Christianity is intended for all, not for the so-called thinkers 
only." Mind, being mechanical, needs the heart to direct it. Mind can 
plan the commission of crimes as well as deeds for the benefit of 

7 Leslie H, Allen, eel.: Bryan and Darrow at Dayton (New York, 1925), p 70; 
this work is edited from the trial record and other sources. 

8 Italics added here; see Ray Ginger s excellent study of the Scopes trial: Six 
Datf$ or Forever? (Boston, 1958), pp. 2,, 17, 64, 134, 381, 206. 

^Ginger: op. cit., pp. 40, 181; cf. Bryan s Famous Figures of the Old Testa 
ment, p. 195; Stfucn Questions in Dispute* pp. 78, 154; In His Image (New York, 
), pp. 200-2; The Commoner, August, 1921, p. 3; November, 1922, p. 3. 


society. "Mind worship is the great sin in the intellectual world today." 
Only the heart which is the province of religion can bring discipline 
to the things of the mind so that they work for good. 

* Here is the crux of the matter: the juncture between populistic 
democracy and old-fashioned religion! Since the affairs of the heart are 
the affairs of the common man, and since the common man s intuition 
in such matters is as good as indeed better than that of the intel 
lectuals, his judgment in matters of religion should rule. Where there 
appeared to be a conflict between religion and science, it was the 
public, Bryan believed, and not "those who measure men by diplomas 
and college degrees," who should decide. As Walter Lippmann ob 
served, the religious doctrine that all men will at last stand equal 
before the throne of God was somehow transmuted in Bryan s mind 
into the idea that all men were equally good biologists before the ballot 
box of Tennessee. In effect, Bryan proposed to put the question of 
evolution to the vote of Christians, and the issue was metamorphosed 
into a question of the rights of the majority. 1 

The Bible condemns evolution, theistic evolution as well as ma 
terialistic evolution, if we can trust the judgment of Christians as 
to what the Bible means. Not one in ten of those who accept the 
Bible as the Word of God have ever believed in the evolutionary 
hypothesis as applied to man. Unless there is some rule by which 
a small fraction can compel the substitution of their views for the 
views entertained by the masses, evolution must stand condemned 
as contrary to the revealed will of God. 

In Bryan s mind the question of the teaching of evolution in the 
schools was a challenge to popular democracy. "What right have the 
evolutionists a relatively small percentage of the population to 

1 Bryan: Orthodox Christianity versus Modernism (New York, 19^3), pp. 14, 
26, 2930, 32, 42; cf. Ginger: op. cit,, pp. 35, 40, 181. "The one beauty about the 
word of God," said Bryan, "is that it does not take an expert to understand it." 
When some metropolitan newspapers suggested that a jury of Dayton residents 
might not be competent to pass on the issues at stake, Bryan commented: "Accord 
ing to our system of government, the people are interested in everything and can be 
trusted to decide everything, and so with our juries/" As he saw it, the case raised 
the question, "can a minority use the courts to force its ideas on the schools?" In 
this controversy, poor Bryan, so long starved for victory, made another of his great 
miscalculations. He appears to have expected to win. "For the first time in my life/ 
he told a fundamentalist conference, "I m on the side of the majority." Ginger: op. 
cit., pp. 44, go. For an astute contemporary statement on the relation between 
Bryan s version of democracy, his evangelical sympathies, and his anti-intellectual- 
ism, see John Dewey: "The American Intellectual Frontier/* New Republic, Vol. 
XXX (May 10, 1922), pp. 303-5. 

129 The Revolt against Modernity 

teach at public expense a so-called scientific interpretation of the 
Bible when orthodox Christians are not permitted to teach an orthodox 
interpretation of the Bible?" Bryan was not convinced, in any case, 
that the science of the evolutionists was sound; but even so, he said, 
they ignored "the science of government/ in which "rights are de 
termined by the majority except for those rights safeguarded to the 
minority by the Constitution. To prevent the minority from teaching 
their doctrines in the public schools would not infringe on their rights. 
"They have no right to demand pay for teaching that which the parents 
and the taxpayers do not want taught. The hand that writes the pay 
check rules the school." Christians had to build their own schools and 
colleges in which to teach Christianity. "Why should not atheists and 
agnostics be required to build their own schools and colleges in which 
to teach their doctrines?" 2 So, if Bryan had had his way, the public 
schools would have banned evolutionary biology altogether, and the 
teaching of modern science would have been confined to a small num 
ber of secularist private schools. This would have been a catastrophe 
for American education, but Bryan, who saw no contradiction between 
sound education and orthodox faith, knew what the choice must be, if 
it had to be made. An educated man without religion is a ship without 
a pilot. "If we have to give up either religion or education, we should 
give up education." 3 

. 3 

Today the evolution controversy seems as remote as the Homeric era 
to intellectuals in the East, and it is not uncommon to take a con 
descending view of both sides. In other parts of the country and in 
other circles, the controversy is still alive. A few years ago, when the 
Scopes trial was dramatized in Inherit the Wind, the play seemed on 
Broadway more like a quaint period piece than a stirring call for free 
dom of thought. But when the road company took the play to a small 
town in Montana, a member of the audience rose and shouted 
"AmenI" at one of the speeches of the character representing Bryan. 
Today intellectuals have bogies much more frightening than funda 
mentalism in the schools; but it would be a serious failure of imagina 
tion not to remember how scared the intellectuals of the 1920*8 were. 
Perhaps not quite so much appeared to be at stake as in the McCarthy- 

2 Orthodox Christianity versus Modernism, pp. 29, 45-6; cf. "Darwinism in 
Public Schools/ The Commoner, January, 1923, pp. 

3 Ginger: op, cit., p. 88. 


ist crusade of the 1950*5, but the sense of oppressive danger was no less 
real. One need only read Maynard Shipley s contemporary survey of 
the anti-evolution movement, The War on Modern Science, to recap 
ture a sense of the genuine alarm of the intellectuals. The Scopes trial, 
like the Army-McCarthy hearings thirty years later, brought feeling to 
a head and provided a dramatic purgation and resolution. After the 
trial was over, it was easier to see that the anti-evolution crusade was 
being contained and that the fears of the intellectuals had been 
excessive. But before the trial, the crusade had gained a great deal of 
strength in. many states, including several outside the South. In the 
South, as W. J. Cash, who observed it at first hand, remarked, it was, 
like the Klan, an authentic folk movement, which had the "active sup 
port and sympathy of the overwhelming majority of the Southern 
people," not only among the masses but among influential lay and 
clerical leaders. 4 If the highbrows had nothing to fear for themselves in 
their more secure centers of learning, they could fear with some reason 
that the country s system of secondary education might be ruined. Nor 
did they altogether have their way in its defense. To this day, the 
language of most secondary-school biology texts is guarded, and evolu 
tion is taught in many places only by indirection. Just a few years ago, 
in a poll of representative adolescent opinion throughout the country, 
only about a third of the sample responded affirmatively to the state 
ment: "Man was evolved from lower forms of animals." 5 

The evolution controversy and the Scopes trial greatly quickened 
the pulse of anti-intellectualism. For the first time in the twentieth 
century, intellectuals and experts were denounced as enemies by 
leaders of a large segment of the public. No doubt, the militant 
fundamentalists were a minority in the country, but they were a sub 
stantial minority; and their animus plainly reflected the feelings of 
still larger numbers, who, however reluctant to join in their reactionary 
crusade, none the less shared their disquiet about the trend of the 
times, their fear of the cosmopolitan mentality, of critical intelligence, 
of experimentalism in morals and literature.1 Bryan s full-throated as- 

4 W. J. Cash: The Mind of the South ( New York, 1941 ) , pp. 337-8. 

5 In this poll, 40 per cent checked "No," 35 per cent Yes," and 2,4 per cent 
"Don t know." H. H. Remmers and D. H. Radler: The American Teenager (Indi 
anapolis, 1957). Cf. the pressures against the teaching of evolution in the 1930*5 as 
reported by Howard K. Beale in Are American Teachers Free? (New York, 1936), 
pp. 296-7. 

6 This concern with morals might bear further examination. As fundamentalists 
saw it, the loss of faith among their children would be only the preliminary to a 
loss of morals. They had a good deal to say about the "sensuality inherent in the 

131 The Revolt against Modernity 

saults upon the "experts" were symbolic of the sharply deviating paths 
being taken by the two sides. It had not always been so. In the Pro 
gressive era the intellectuals had felt themselves to be essentially in 
harmony with the basic interests and aspirations of the people. Now it 
was evident once more that this harmony was neither pre-established 
nor guaranteed. >The more spiritually earnest the great religious public 
was, the more Violently it might differ from the views of the majority of 
intellectuals. As for the fundamentalists, it would be a mistake to for 
get that being routed in the main contest did not cause them to 
capitulate or disappear. They retired sullenly, some of them looking 
for other spheres in which modernists might be more vulnerable. They 
could not eclipse modernism or secularism in the religious controversy 
itself, but they might find other areas in which to rise and smite again. 
The events of the Great Depression gave them scant comfort. Their 
theological isolation from the main body of the big evangelical 
churches was doubly oppressive, for the evangelicals in overwhelming 
numbers now became politically liberal or left. 7 However, the laymen 
did not go so far as the clergy, and many conservative laymen felt that 
the development of a new social-gospel movement had created a new 
"priestly class** (as one right- wing churchman put it) out of harmony 
with the sentiments of many people in their congregations. Their 
heightened sense of isolation and impotence helped to bring many of 
the dwindling but still numerically significant fundamentalists into the 
ranks of a fanatical right-wing opposition to the New Deal. The funda 
mentalism of the cross was now supplemented by a fundamentalism of 
the flag. Since the 1930*5, fundamentalism has been a significant 
component in the extreme right in American politics, whose cast of 
thought often shows strong fundamentalist filiations. 8 The spokesmen 

notion that man has descended from lower forms of life, and their rhetoric sug 
gests to what a degree sexual fears, as well as others, were mobilized in this 

7 I am indebted here to two excellent studies of the social crosscurrents in Ameri 
can religion: Paul Carter s The Decline and Revival of the Social Gospel (Ithaca, 
1954) and Robert Moats Miller s American Protestantism and Social Issues 
( Chapel Hill, 1958). 

8 The several authors, including myself, of the essays assessing The New Ameri 
can Right (New York, 1955), ed. by Daniel Bell, have either ignored or given 
only casual attention to the place of fundamentalism in right-wing extremism. But 
see some of the more recent essays in the new edition, The Radical Right (New 
York, 1963). The most informative work on the subject is Ralph Lord Roy s Apos 
tles of Discord (Boston, 1953), which is written in a mood of muckraking and ex 
posure but has an extensive scholarly documentation. On recent developments, see 
David Danzig: "The Radical Ri^ht and the Rise of the Fundamentalist Minority," 
Commentary f Vol. XXXI11 ( April, 1962), pp. 291-8. 


of this trend in political fundamentalism have kept alive the folkish 
anti-intellectualism of the evolution controversy. "I do not understand 
political science, as an authority from an academic viewpoint/* one of 
their leaders proclaimed. "I am not familiar with the artistic master 
pieces of Europe, but I do say this tonight: I understand the hearts of 
the American people/ And he went on to denounce their betrayers: 
"The Scribes and Pharisees of the Twentieth Century . . . [who] 
provide a nation with its dominant propaganda, including seasonal 
fashions in politics, religious attitudes, sub-standard ethics and half- 
caste morals." It is an ancient and indigenous refrain, echoed in the 
simplest terms by another : **We are going to take this government out 
of the hands of these city-slickers and give it back to the people that 
still believe two plus two is four, God is in his Heaven, and the Bible is 
the Word" 9 

Although no one has ever tried to trace in detail the historic links be 
tween the radical right of the depression and post-depression periods 
and the fundamentalism of the ig^o s, there are some suggestive con 
tinuities among the leaders. Many of the leaders of right-wing groups 
have been preachers, or ex-preachers, or sons of preachers with rigid 
religious upbringings. Some of the men associated with Billy Sunday in 
the mid-thirties later turned up as right-wing or quasi-fascist agitators. 
Gerald Winrod of Kansas, one of the most prominent right-wing 
prophets of our time, began his career of agitation as a crusading anti- 
evolutionist. Another, Gerald L. K. Smith, was a minister s son and a 
preacher for the Disciples of Christ. The late J. Frank Norris^ a 
Southern Baptist preacher in the forefront of the anti-evolution 
crusade in Texas, later became one of the most colorful right-wing 
messiahs. Carl Mclntire,ia leading organizer of contemporary right- 
wing opposition to modernism, was originally a prot<g6 of the high 
brow fundamentalist^ J. Gresham Machen.^The more recent resur 
gence of the right wing in the John Birch Society and various 
"Christian Crusades" has made the fundamentalist orientation of a 
large segment of the right wing more conspicuous than at any time in 
the past; the movement has been led, to a great extent, by preachers 

9 Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman; Prophets of Deceit (New York, 1949), 
pp. 109-10; the quotations are from Gerald L. K, Smith and Charles B. Hudson. 

1 On Winrod, Smith, Norris, and Mclntire, see Roy: op. cit., passim; Carter: 
op. cit., chapter 4; Miller: op. cit., chapter 11; and^McLoughlinj Billy Sunday, 
pp. 290, 310. On fundamentalism and the John Birch Society, see The New York 
Times, April 23 and October zg, 1961; Tris Coffin: "The Yahoo Returns," New 
Leader, April 17, 1961. 

133 The Revolt against Modernity 

and ex-preachers. The literature of the extreme right also shows a 
significant continuity in style indicative of the degree to which the 
pattern of fundamentalism has become the pattern of militant na 
tionalism. (It was with an appropriate sense of this continuity that 
Gerald L. K. Smith named his paper The Cross and the Flag.) 

It is not mere opportunism that causes the politically minded 
fundamentalist to gravitate toward the far right. No less than others, 
fundamentalists like to feel that they have a comprehensive world 
view, and their minds are more satisfied when religious and political 
antipathies can be linked together. {They have developed a gift for 
combining seemingly irrelevant animosities so as to make them mu 
tually re~enforcing.\For example, just as contemporary fundamentalists 
have linked their religious sentiments to the cold war, the fundamen 
talists of the twenties responded to the issues of the First World War 
and to residual anti-German feeling. It was one of their most common 
arguments against the modernists that higher criticism of the Bible has 
received its strongest impetus from German scholarship; they were 
thus able to forge a link between the German amorality supposedly 
revealed by wartime atrocity stories and the destructive moral effects 
of Biblical criticism. This case was argued at various levels of sophisti 
cation, perhaps most simply and informally by Billy Sunday: "In 
1895 at the Potsdam Palace the Kaiser called his statesmen together 
and outlined his plan for world domination, and he was told that the 
German people would never stand by and endorse it, as it was not in 
line with the teaching of Martin Luther. Then the Kaiser cried, *We 
will change the religion of Germany then/ and higher criticism 
began." 2 

There seems to be such a thing as the generically prejudiced mind. 
Studies of political intolerance and ethnic prejudice have shown that 
zealous church-going and rigid religious faith are among the important 
correlates of political and ethnic animosity. 3 It is the existence of this 

2 McLoxtghlin: Billy Sunday, p. 281. 

8 The* most interesting work I know of on the generically prejudiced mind is 
that of E. L. Hartley, who asked college students to rate various nations and races 
according to their acceptability. He had in his list the names of three fictitious 
ethnic groups, the Daniereans., Pireneans, and Wallonians. There was a high 
correlation between expressed prejudice against actual ethnic groups and prejudice 
against those fictitious ones, bespeaking a set of mind that is prepared to react with 
u oorluin hostility to anything. See E. L. Hartley: Problems in Prejudice (New 
York, 1946), On the relation between religious orthodoxy and forms of intolerance, 
sec Samuel A. Stouffei: Communism, Conformity, and Civil Liberties (New York, 
1955), pp. 140-55; and T. A. Adorno et al.: The Authoritarian Personality (New 
York, 1950), chapters 6 and 18. 


type of mind that sets the stage for the emergence of the one-hundred 
percenter and determines the similarity of style between the modern 
right wing and the fundamentalist^ In fact, the conditions of the 
cold Avar and the militant spirit bred by the constant struggle against 
world Communism have given the fundamentalist mind a new lease 
on life J Like almost everything else in our world, fundamentalism 
itself has been considerably secularized, and this process of seculariza 
tion has yielded a type of pseudo-political mentality whose way of 
thought is best understood against the historical background of the 
revivalist preacher and the camp meeting. The fundamentalist mind 
has had the bitter experience of being routed in the field of morals 
and censorship, on evolution and Prohibition, and it finds itself in 
creasingly submerged in a world in which the great and respectable 
media of mass communication violate its sensibilities and otherwise 
ignore it. In a modern, experimental, and "sophisticated" society, it has 
been elbowed aside and made a figure of fun, and even much of the 
religious "revival" of our time is genteel and soft-spoken in a way that 
could never have satisfied the old-fashioned fundamentalist zeal. JBut 
in politics, the secularized fundamentalism of our time has found a 
new kind of force and a new punitive capacity. The political climate 
of the post-war era has given the fundamentalist type powerful new 
allies among other one-hundred percenters: rich men, some of them 
still loyal to a fundamentalist upbringing, stung by the income tax and 
still militant against the social reforms of the New Deal; isolationist 
groups and militant nationalists; Catholic fundamentalists, ready for 
the first time to unite with their former persecutors on the issue of 
"Godless Communism"; and Southern reactionaries newly animated 
by the fight over desegregation.) 

| One reason why the political intelligence of our time is so in 
credulous and uncomprehending in the presence of the right-wing 
mind is that it does not reckon fully with the essentially theological 
concern that underlies right-wing views of the world. Characteristi 
cally, the political intelligence, if it is to operate at all as a kind of civic 
force rather than as a mere set of maneuvers to advance this or that 
special interest, must have its own way of handling the facts of life and 
of forming strategies. It accepts conflict as a central and enduring 
reality and understands human society as a form o equipoise based 
upon the continuing process of compromise. It shuns ultimate show 
downs and looks upon the ideal of total partisan victory as unattain 
able, as merely another variety of threat to the kind of balance with 

135 The Revolt against Modernity 

which it is familiar. It is sensitive to nuances and sees things in 
degrees. It is essentially relativist and skeptical, but at the same time 
circumspect and humane.^ 

The fundamentalist mind will have nothing to do with all this: it is 
essentially Manichean; it looks upon the world as an arena for conflict 
between absolute good and absolute evil, and accordingly it scorns 
compromises (who would compromise with Satan?) and can tolerate 
no ambiguities. It cannot find serious importance in what it believes to 
be trifling degrees of difference: liberals support measures that are for 
all practical purposes socialistic, and socialism is nothing more than a 
variant of Communism, which, as everyone knows, is atheism. Whereas 
the distinctively political intelligence begins with the political world, 
and attempts to make an assessment of how far a given set of goals 
can in fact be realized in the face of a certain balance of opposing 
forces, the secularized fundamentalist mind begins with a definition of 
that which is absolutely right, and looks upon politics as an arena in 
which that right must be realized. It cannot think, for example, of 
the cold war as a question of mundane politics that is to say, as a con 
flict between two systems of power that are compelled in some degree 
to accommodate each other in order to survive but only as a clash 
of faiths. It is not concerned with the realities of power with the fact, 
say, that the Soviets have the bomb but with the spiritual battle with 
the Communist, preferably the domestic Communist, whose reality 
does not consist in what he does, or even in the fact that he exists, but 
who represents, rather, an archetypal opponent in a spiritual wrestling 
match. He has not one whit less reality because the fundamentalists 
have never met him in the flesh. t 

The issues of the actual world are hence transformed into a spiritual 
Armageddon, an ultimate reality, in which any reference to day -by-day 
actualities has the character of an allegorical illustration, and not of the 
empirical evidence that ordinary men offer for ordinary conclusions. 
Thus, when a right-wing leader accuses Dwight D. Eisenhower of 
being a conscious, dedicated agent of the international Communist 
conspiracy, he may seem demented, by the usual criteria of the politi 
cal intelligence; but, more accurately, I believe, he is quite literally out 
of this world. What he is trying to account for is not Eisenhower s 
actual political behavior, as men commonly understand it, but Eisen 
hower s place, as a kind of fallen angel, in the realm of ultimate moral 
and spiritual values, which to him has infinitely greater reality than 
mundane politics. Scon in this light, the accusation is no longer quite 


so willfully perverse, but appears in its proper character as a kind of 
sublime nonsense. Credo quia absurdum est. 



In these pages I have been mainly concerned with the relationship 
between Protestant evangelicism and American anti-intellectualism, 
simply because America has been a Protestant country, molded by 
Protestant institutions. It would be a mistake, however, to fail to note 
the distinctive ethos of American Catholicism, which has contributed 
in a forceful and decisive way to our anti-intellectualism. Catholicism 
in this country over the past two or three generations has waxed strong 
in numbers, in political power, and in acceptance. At the middle of 
the nineteenth century it was, though a minority faith, the largest 
single church in the country and was steadily gaining ground despite 
anti-Catholic sentiment. Today the Church claims almost a fourth of 
the population, and has achieved an acceptance which would have 
seemed surprising even thirty years ago. 

One might have expected Catholicism to add a distinctive leaven to 
the intellectual dialogue in America, bringing as it did a different sense 
of the past and of the world, a different awareness of the human condi 
tion and of the imperatives of institutions. In fact, it has done nothing 
of the kind, for it has failed to develop an intellectual tradition in 
America or to produce its own class of intellectuals capable cither of 
exercising authority among Catholics or of mediating between the 
Catholic mind and the secular or Protestant mind. Instead, American 
Catholicism has devoted itself alternately to denouncing the aspects of 
American life it could not approve and imitating more acceptable 
aspects in order to surmount its minority complex and "Americanize" 
itself. In consequence, the American Church, which contains more 
communicants than that of any country except Brazil and Italy, and is 
the richest and perhaps the best organised of the national divisions of 
the Church, lacks an intellectual culture. "In no Western society/ 
D. W. Brogan has remarked, "is the intellectual prestige of Catholicism 
lower than in the country whez^e, in such respects as wealth, numbers, 
and strength of organization, it is so powerful/ In the last two 
decades, which have seen a notable growth of the Catholic middle 

137 The Revolt against Modernity 

class and the cultivated Catholic public, Catholic leaders have become 
aware of this failure; a few years ago, Monsignor John Tracy Ellis s 
penetrating brief survey of American Catholic intellectual impoverish 
ment had an overwhelmingly favorable reception in the Catholic 
press. 4 j 

Two formative circumstances in the development of early Ameri 
can Catholicism made for indifference to intellectual life. First in im 
portance was the fiercely prejudiced Know-Nothing psychology 
against which it had to make its way in the nineteenth century. Re 
garded as a foreign body that ought to be expelled from the national 
organism > and as the agent of an alien power, the Church had to fight 
to establish its Americanism. Catholic laymen who took pride in their 
religious identity responded to the American milieu with militant 
self-assertion whenever they could, and(" Church spokesmen seemed to 
feel that it was not scholarship but vigorous polemicism which was 
needed, ^/The Church thus took on a militant stance that ill accorded 
with reflection; and in our time, when the initial prejudice against it 
has been largely surmounted, its members persist in what Monsignor 
Ellis calls a "self-imposed ghetto mentality."} A second determining 
factor was that for a long time the limited resources of the American 
Church were pre-empted by the exigent task of creating the institu 
tions necessary to absorb a vast influx of immigrants almost ten 
million between 1820 and 1920 and to provide them with the rudi 
ments of religious instruction. So much was taken up by this pressing 
practical need that little was left over for the higher culture, in so far as 
there were members of the Church who were concerned with Catholic 
culture. ; 

* These paragraphs owe much, to Monsignor Ellis s article, "American Catholics 
and the Intellectual Life/* Thought, Vol. XXX (Autumn, 1955), pp. 351-88, In 
formation and quotations not otherwise identified are taken from this essay. See 
also, among Catholic writers, the discussions of related issues in Thomas F. 
O Dca: American Catholic Dilemma: An Inquiry Into Intellectual Life (New 
York, 1958); and Father Walter J. Ong, S. J.: Frontiers in American Catholicism 
(New York, 1957); and, among non-Catholic writers, Robert D. Cross: Liberal 
Catholicism in America (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1958), which examines at 
length sonic of the tensions within the Church caused by adaptation to America. 

K As Father Ong (op. cit., p. 38) points out, it is all but impossible for American 
Catholics to understand "how this evident devotion [of educated French Catholics] 
can bo nurtured in the twentieth century without courses in apologetics of the sort 
which American Catholic Colleges and universities feature but which are quite 
unknown at the Institut Catholique (Catholic University faculty) in Paris, 
Toulouse, or elsewhere. American Catholics are lost when they find that the French 
apologetic tends to train the youthful mind to think through modern problems in 
Catholic ways. . . ." 


i Catholicism was, moreover, the religion of the immigrant. 6 To Ameri 
can Catholics, the true Church seemed to be in Europe; and they -were 
content to leave the cultivation of intellectual life to the more 
sophisticated Europeans all the while developing an exaggerated 
and unwarranted deference to such Catholic writers as Belloc and 
Chesterton. Non-English-speaking immigrants showed a high degree of 
passivity before clerical leadership, as well as before American society 
as a whole. What is perhaps most important though it receives less 
than its proper share of attention from Catholic analysts of the 
Church s cultural problems here is the fact that the Irish became the 
primary catalysts between America and the other immigrant groups. 
The Irish, taking advantage of their knowledge of English and their 
prior arrival, constructed the network of political machines and Church 
hierarchy through which most Catholic arrivals could make a place for 
themselves in American life. And more than any other group, the Irish 
put their stamp on American Catholicism; consequently the American 
Church absorbed little of the impressive scholarship of German Ca 
tholicism or the questioning intellectualism of the French Church, 
and much more of the harsh Puritanism and fierce militancy of the 
Irish clergy. 

Cut off by language and class from easy entrance into the main 
stream of Protestant Anglo-Saxon culture, immigrant working-class 
Catholics were in no position to produce intellectual spokesmen. It is 
significant that many of the intellectual leaders of the Church in 
America were not, in national origin, typical of the mass of American 
Catholics, but were rather native Anglo-Americans converted to the 
Church^ like Orestes Brownson and Father Isaac Hecker. The social 
origins and cultural opportunities of Church officials were well charac 
terized by Archbishop Gushing in 1947 when he said that "in all the 
American hierarchy, resident in the United States, there is not known 

6 The immigrant character of the Church brings into focus a problem that has 
existed for all immigrant faiths and indeed for all upwardly mobile American 
groups, Protestant or Catholic, immigrant or native. It is that the process of educa 
tion, instead of becoming a reinforcing bond between generations, constitutes an 
additional barrier between them and adds greatly to the poignance of parenthood. 
Within a stable social class, attendance at the same schools can often provide a 
unifying set of experiences for parents and children. But in a country in which 
millions of children of almost illiterate parents have gone to high school and 
millions more whose parents have only modest educations have gone to college, 
the process of education is as much a threat to parents as a promise. This has added 
force to the desire to put, so to speak, a ceiling on the quality and range of educa 
tion/Parents often hope to give their children the social and vocational advantages 
of college without at the same time infusing in them cultural aspirations too remote 
from those of the home environment in which they have been reared, j 

139 The Revolt against Modernity 

to me one Bishop, Archbishop or Cardinal whose father or mother was 
a college graduate. Every one of our Bishops and Archbishops is the 
son of a working man and a working man s wife." The hierarchy, 
which has been drawn from this culturally underprivileged back 
ground, is of course educated, but primarily in a vocational way. As 
Bishop Spalding pointed out at the Third Plenary Council of Balti 
more: "the ecclesiastical seminary is not a school of intellectual cul 
ture, either here in America or elsewhere, and to imagine that it can 
become the instrument of intellectual culture is to cherish a delusion/* 
So, even in this most ancient of Christian churches, the American 
environment has prevailed and the American problem has reasserted 
itself in an acute form: culturally one began de nouo. So lacking in 
scholarly distinction were American Catholics that when the Catholic 
University of America was opened by the American hierarchy in 
1889, with the hope of remedying this situation, six of its original eight- 
man faculty had to be recruited from Europe, and the two native mem 
bers were converts who had been educated outside the folds of the 

For a long time the proportion of lay Catholics wealthy enough to 
give significant patronage to intellectual institutions was small, as 
compared with other faiths. The emergence of the modern Catholic 
millionaire has not changed this situation as much as it might have 
done. Monsignor Ellis remarks, concerning one case in point, that the 
Catholic University of America received, during the first sixty-six years 
of its existence, only about ten bequests of $100,000 or more, and only 
one of these approached the kind of munificence that has made the 
American private secular university possible. With the increasing 
upward mobility of a large part of the Catholic population, Catholics, 
like Protestants, have sent their children to colleges in growing num 
bers. But both Catholic educators and non-Catholic friends like 
Robert M. Hutchins have been dismayed to see Catholic schools 
commonly reproducing the vocationalism, athleticism, and anti- 
intcllcctualism which prevails so widely in American higher education 
as a whole. The intellectual achievement of Catholic colleges and 
universities remains startlingly low, both in the sciences and in the 
hxunanities. Robert H. Knapp and his collaborators, surveying the 
collegiate origins of American scientists in 195^, remarked that 
Catholic institutions are "among the least productive of all institutions 
and constitute a singularly unproductive sample." Their record in the 
humanities, surprisingly, is worse: "Catholic institutions, though ex- 


ceptionally unproductive in all areas of scholarship, achieve their best 
record in the sciences." 7 

As one might have expected, the way of the Catholic intellectual in 
this country has been doubly hard. He has had to justify himself not 
only as a Catholic to the Protestant and secular intellectual community 
but also as an intellectual to fellow Catholics, for whom his vocation is 
even more questionable than it is to the American community at large. 
Catholic scholars and writers tend to be recognized belatedly by their 
co-religionists, when they are recognized at all. 8 

All of this concerns, of course, not so much the anti-intellectualism 
of American Catholicism as its cultural impoverishment, its non- 
intellectualism. But it will serve as background for a more central 
point: a great many Catholics have been as responsive as Protestant 
fundamentalists to that revolt against modernity of which I have 
spoken, and they have done perhaps more than their share in de 
veloping the one-hundred per cent mentality. In no small measure this 
has been true because their intellectual spokesmen who are now 
growing in numbers and influence have not yet gained enough 
authority in the Catholic community to hold in check the most 
retrograde aspects of that revolt, including its general suspicion of 
mind and its hostility to intellectuals. A great deal of the energy of the 
priesthood in our time has been directed toward censorship, divorce, 
birth control, and other issues which have brought the Church into 
conflict with the secular and the Protestant mind time and again; some 
of it has also gone into ultra-conservative political movements, which 
are implacable enemies of the intellectual community. Catholic 
intellectuals on the whole have opposed the extreme and (from the 
point of view of the faith) gratuitous aspects of this enmity, but they 
have been unable to restrain it. 9 

Indeed, one of the most striking developments of our time has been 
the emergence of a kind of union, or at least a capacity for co 
operation, between Protestant and Catholic fundamentalists, who 
share a common puritanism and a common mindless militancy on 

7 Robert H. Knapp and H. B. Goodrich: Origins of American Scientists (Chicago, 
1952), p. 24; Robert H. Knapp and Joseph J. Grecnbaum; The Younger American 
Scholar: His Collegiate Origins (Chicago, 1953), p. 99. 

8 Harry Sylvester s article, "Problems of the Catholic Writer/ Atlantic Monthly, 
Vol. CLXXXI (January, 1948), pp. 109-13, contains a stimulating discussion of the 

?For evidence that Catholic clergy and laymen alike are unxxsually hostile to 
freedom of thought and criticism, even on subjects remote from dogma, see Ger- 
hardt Lenski: The Religious Factor (New York, 1960), especially p. 378. 

14 1 The Revolt against Modernity 

what they imagine to be political issues, which unite them in opposi 
tion to what they repetitively call Godless Communism. Many 
Catholics seem to have overcome the natural reluctance one might 
expect them to have to join hands with the very type o bigoted 
Protestant who scourged their ancestors. It seems a melancholy irony 
that a union which the common bonds of Christian fraternity could 
not achieve has been forged by the ecumenicism of hatred. During the 
McCarthy era, the senator from Wisconsin had wide backing both from 
right-wing Protestant groups and from many Catholics, who seemed 
almost to believe that he was promulgating not a personal policy but a 
Catholic policy. It mattered not a bit that the organs of Catholic intel 
lectuals, like Commonweal and the Jesuits America? vigorously con 
demned him. More recently the John Birch Society, despite its heavy 
Protestant fundamentalist aura, has attracted enough Catholics to 
cause at least one member of the hierarchy to warn them against it. For 
Catholics there is a dangerous source of gratification in the present 
indiscriminately anti-Communist mentality of the country. After more 
than a century of persecution, it must feel luxurious for Catholics to 
find their Americanism at last unquestioned, and to be able to join 
with their former persecutors in common pursuit of a new interna 
tional, conspiratorial, un-American enemy with a basically foreign 
allegiance this time not in Rome but in Moscow. The pursuit is 
itself so gratifying that it does not much matter that the menacing 
domestic Communist has become a phantom. These Catholics will not 
thank anyone, not even thinkers of their own faith, for interrupting 
them with such irrelevancies at a time when they feel as though they 
have Cromwell s men themselves on the run. 


The Politics of 

[ 145 3 

The Decline of the 



HEN THE United States began its national existence, the rela 
tionship between intellect and power was not a problem. The leaders 
were the intellectuals. Advanced though the nation was in the devel 
opment of democracy, the control of its affairs still rested largely in a 
patrician elite: and within this elite men of intellect moved freely and 
spoke with enviable authority. Since it was an unspecialized and 
versatile age, the intellectual as expert was a negligible force; but the 
intellectual as ruling-class gentleman was a leader in every segment of 
society at the bar, in the professions, in business, and in political 
affairs. The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad 
cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide 
reading in history, politics, and law to solve the exigent problems of 
their time. No subsequent era in our history has produced so many men 
of knowledge among its political leaders as the age of John Adams, 
John Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas 
Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, James Wilson, and George 
Wythe\ One might have expected that such men, whose political 
achievements were part of the very fabric of the nation, would have 
stood as permanent and overwhelming testimonial to the truth that 
men of learning and intellect need not be bootless and impractical as 
political leaders. 

It is ironic that the United States should have been founded by 
intellectuals; for throughout most of our political history, the intellec- 


tual has been for the most part either an outsider, a servant, or a 
scapegoat. The American people have always cherished a deep histori 
cal piety, second only to that felt for Lincoln, for what Dumas Malone 
has called "the Great Generation," the generation which carried out 
the Revolution and formed the Constitution. We may well ask how a 
people with such beginnings and such pieties so soon lost their high 
regard for mind in politics. Why, while most of the Founding Fathers 
were still alive, did a reputation for intellect become a political disad 

^ In time, of course, the rule of the patrician elite was supplanted by a 
popular democracy, but one cannot blame the democratic movement 
alone for the decline in regard for intellect in politics. Soon after a 
party division became acute, the members of the elite fell out among 
themselves, and lost their respect for political standards. The men who 
with notable character and courage led the way through the Revolu 
tion and with remarkable prescience and skill organized a new na 
tional government in 178788 had by 1796 become hopelessly divided 
in their interests and sadly affected by the snarling and hysterical dif 
ferences which were aroused by the French Revolution. 1 The genera 
tion which wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitu 
tion also wrote the Alien and Sedition Acts. Its eminent leaders lost 
their solidarity, and their standards declined. A common membership 
in the patrician class, common experiences in revolution and state- 
making, a common core of ideas and learning did not prevent them 
from playing politics with little regard for decency or common sense. 
Political controversy, muddied by exaggerated charges of conspiracies 
with French agents or plots to subvert Christianity or schemes to re 
store monarchy and put the country under the heel of Great Britain, 
degenerated into demagogy. Having no understanding of the uses of 
political parties or of the function of a loyal opposition, the Founding 
Fathers surrendered to their political passions and entered upon a 
struggle in which any rhetorical weapon would do v \ 

Not even Washington was immune from abuse and slander; how 
ever, the first notable victim of a distinctively anti-intellectualist 
broadside was Thomas Jefferson, and his assailants were Federalist 
leaders and members of the established clergy of New England. The 
assault on Jefferson is immensely instructive because it indicates the 
qualities his enemies thought could be used to discredit him and 

1 See Marshall SmeLscr: "The Federalist Period as an Age of Passion/ Ameri 
can Quarterly, Vol. X (Winter, 1958), pp. 391-419- 

147 The Decline of the Gentleman 

establishes a precedent for subsequent anti-intellectualist imagery in 
our politics. In 1796, when it seemed that Jefferson might succeed 
Washington, the s South Carolina Federalist" congressman, [William 
Loughton Smith; published an anonymous pamphlet attacking Jeffer 
son and minimizing his qualifications for the presidency. Smith tried to 
show how unsettling and possibly even dangerous Jefferson s "doc 
trinaire" leadership would be. Jefferson was a philosopher and, Smith 
pointed out, philosophers have a way of being doctrinaires in politics 
witness Locke s impracticable constitution for the Carolinas, Con- 
dorcet s "political follies/ 7 and Rittenhouse s willingness to lend his 
name to the Democratic Society of Philadelphia! 2 

The characteristic traits of a philosopher, when he turns politi 
cian, are, timidity, whimsicalness, and a disposition to reason from 
certain principles, and not from the true nature of man; a prone- 
ness to predicate all his measures on certain abstract theories, 
formed in the recess of his cabinet, and not on the existing state of 
things and circumstances; an inertness of mind, as applied to gov 
ernmental policy, a wavering of disposition when great and sud 
den emergencies demand promptness of decision and energy of 

What was needed was not intellect but character, and here too 
Jefferson was found wanting: philosophers, the pamphleteer argued, 
are extremely prone to flattery and avid of repute, and Jefferson s own 
abilities "have been more directed to the acquirement of literary fame 
than to the substantial good of his country." Washington there was a 
man, no nonsense about him: "The great WASHINGTON was, thank 
God, no philosopher; had he been one, we should never have seen his 
great military exploits; we should never have prospered under his wise 
administration." jSinitli hit upon a device that was to become standard 
among the critics of intellect in politics portraying the curiosity of the 
active mind as too trivial and ridiculous for important affairs,; He 
mocked at Jefferson s skills in "impaling butterflies and insects, and 

2 [William Loughton Smith] : The Pretensions of Thomas Jefferson to the 
Presidency Examined (n.p., 1796), Part I, pp. 14-15. No one wishes to say that 
ho is opposed to "genuine learning and wisdom but only to an inferior or debased 
version. Smith thought Jefferson a bogus philosopher, not a "real" 1 one. He had only 
the external and inferior characteristics of a philosopher, which meant, in politics, 
**a want of steadiness, a constitutional indecision and versatility, visionary, wild, 
and speculative systems, and various other defective features." Ibid., p. 16. Those 
who remember Adlai Stevenson s campaigns will find in these quotations a 
familiar ring. 


contriving turn-about chairs** and also suggested that no real friend o 
Jefferson, or of the country, would "draw this calm philosopher from 
such useful pursuits" to plunge him into the ardors of politics. In lan 
guage almost identical with that used a generation later against John 
Quincy Adams, Smith suggested that Jefferson s merits "might entitle 
him to the Professorship of a college, but they would be as compatible 
with the duties of the presidency as with the command of the Western 
army." 3 

In Smith s attack, certain other preoccupations appear which fore 
shadow the tone of later political literature. There was the notion that 
military ability is a test of the kind of character which is good for 
political leadership. It was assumed that a major part of civic charac 
ter resides in military virtue; even today an intellectual in politics can 
sometimes counteract the handicap of intellect by pointing to a record 
of military service. 

In the campaign of 1800 all inhibitions broke down. The attempt to 
score against Jefferson on the ground that he was a man of thought and 
learning was, of course, only one aspect of a comprehensive attack 
upon his mind and character designed to show that he was a dangerous 
demagogue without faith or morals or, as one critic put it, of "no 
Conscience, no Religion, no Charity." It was charged that he kept a 
slave wench and sired mulattoes; that he had been a coward during the 
American Revolution; that he had started the French Revolution; that 
he had slandered Washington; that he was ambitious to become a 
dictator, another Bonaparte; that he was a visionary and a dreamer, 
an impractical doctrinaire, and, to make matters worse, a French 
doctrinaire. 4 

The campaign against Jefferson became at the same time an at 
tempt to establish as evil and dangerous the qualities of the specula 
tive mind. Learning and speculation had made an atheist of Jefferson, 
it was said; had caused him to quarrel with the views of the theologians 
about the age of the earth and to oppose having school children read 
the Bible. Such vagaries might be harmless in a closet philosopher, but 
to allow him to bring these qualities of mind into the presidency would 
be dangerous to religion and to society. 5 His abstractness of mind and 

3 Ibid., pp, 4, 6, 16; Part H, p. 39. 

4 For a summary of the worst assaults on Jefferson, see Charles O. Lerche, Jr.: 
"Jefferson and the Election of 1800: A Case Study of the Political Smear," William 
and Mary Quarterly, 3rd scr., Vol. V (October, X948), pp. 46791. 

B [William Linn] : Serious Considerations on the Election of a President ( New 
York, 1800 ) . 

X 49 The Decline of the Gentleman 

his literary interests made him unfit for practical tasks. He tended 
always to theorize about government: "All the ideas which were de 
rived from Experience were hooted at." 6 "I am ready to admit/ said 
one Federalist pamphleteer, "that he is distinguished for shewy talents, 
for theoretic learning, and for the elegance of his written style/ He 
went on: 7 

It was in France., where he resided nearly seven years, and 
until the revolution had made some progress, that his disposition 
to theory, and his skepticism in religion, morals, and government, 
acquired full strength and vigor. . . . Mr. Jefferson is known to be 
a theorist in politics, as well as in philosophy and morals. He is a 
philosophe in the modern French sense of the word. 

Eminent contemporaries agreed. Fisher Ames thought that Jefferson, 
"like most men of genius . . . has been carried away by systems, and 
the everlasting zeal to generalize, instead of proceeding, like common 
men of practical sense, on the low, but sure foundation of matter of 
fact." 8 The Federalist writer, Joseph Dennie, saw in him a favorite 
pupil of the "dangerous, Deistical, and Utopian" school of French 
philosophy. "The man has talents," Dennie conceded, 9 

but they are of a dangerous and delusive kind. He has read much 
and can write plausibly. He is a man of letters, and should be a 
retired one. His closet, and not the cabinet, is his place. In the 
first, he might harmlessly examine the teeth of a non-descript mon 
ster, the secretions of an African, or the almanac of Banneker. . . . 
At the seat of government his abstract, inapplicable, metaphysico- 
politics are either nugatory or noxious. Besides, his principles relish 
so strongly of Paris and are seasoned with such a profusion of 
French garlic, that he offends the whole nation. Better for Ameri 
cans that on their extended plains "thistles should grow, instead 
of wheat, and cockle, instead of barley," than that a philosopher 
should influence the councils of the country, and that his admira 
tion of the works of Voltaire and Helvetius should induce him to 
wish a closer connexion with Frenchmen. 

(J Connecticut Courant, July la, 1800, quoted in Lerchc: op. cit., p. 475. 
7 Address to the Citizens of South Carolina on the Approaching Election of a 
and V ice-President of the United States. By a Federal Republican 

(Charlostown, 1800), pp. 9, 10, 15. 

H Seth Ames, ed.: The Life and Works of Fisher Ames (Boston, 1854), Vol. II, 
p. 134. 

** Th0 Lai/ Preacher, ed. by Millon Ellis (New York, 1943), p. 174; the essay 
originally appeared in the Port Folio, Vol. I ( 1801 ). 


Charles Carroll o Carrollton thought Jefferson "too theoretical and 
fanciful a statesman to direct with prudence the affairs of this extensive 
and growing confederacy/ * The implication seemed clear: the young 
confederacy must learn to keep men of intellectual genius out of 
practical affairs. 

The demagogic attacks made on Jefferson by the established clergy 
may be explained also by the fact that he had forged a singular, and to 
them obnoxious, coalition. Jefferson, although a Deist and a man of 
secular learning, had roused many supporters among the evangelical 
and pietistic denominations, particularly among the Baptists. Not only 
were they impressed by Jefferson s reputation for democratic senti 
ments, but as diss&nters they were also impressed by his espousal of 
toleration. They were far less troubled by the charges of infidelity 
hurled at him than by the disabilities imposed on themselves by the 
established churches. Jefferson and other secular intellectuals thus 
joined the pietistic denominations in a curious political alliance based 
upon common hostility to established orthodoxy, Both groups appealed 
to standards of authority alien to the established churches: the secular 
liberals to rationalist criticism, the pietists to intuition. For the mo 
ment, under the pressure of their common dislike of established dogma, 
the liberals and pietists chose to ignore their own differences, and to 
set aside the fact that the one objected to all dogma and the other to all 
establishments . 2 

To drive a wedge into this alliance, the established clergy tried to 
demonstrate that Jefferson was a threat to all Christians a charge that 
many of them in their partisan anguish no doubt sincerely believed. In 
time the alliance between the pietists and the enlightened liberals did 
break up; a gap was opened between the common man and the intel 
lectual which has seldom since been satisfactorily bridged. But at the 
time of Jefferson s election the alliance between liberal intellect 
and evangelical democracy still held good. When the break finally 
occurred, when the upsurging forces of popular democracy were 
released from the restraining hand of enlightened patrician leader 
ship, the forces of evangelicalism produced an anti-intellectualism 

1 In a letter to Alexander Hamilton, in J. C. Hamilton, ed.: The Works of 
Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1850-51), Vol. VI, pp, 434-5, Hamilton himself 
understood that Jefferson, far from being a thoroughgoing doctrinaire, was a 
temporizing and opportunistic statesman. 

2 On the nature of this allianee and the consequences of its ultimate dissolution, 
see Sidney E. Mead s penetrating essay, American Protestantism during the 
Revolutionary Epoch," Church History, Vol. XII (December, 1953), pp. 379-97. 

The Decline of the Gentleman 

every bit as virulent and of far more effect than that employed by the 
established clergy against Jefferson. 

The shabby campaign against Jefferson, and then the Alien and Sedi 
tion Acts, manifested the treason of many wealthy and educated 
Federalists against the cultural values of tolerance and freedom. Un 
fortunately, it did not follow that more popular parties under Jeffer- 
sonian or Jacksonian leadership could be counted on to espouse these 
values. The popular parties themselves eventually became the vehicles 
of a kind of primitivist and anti-intellectualist populism hostile to the 
specialist, the expert, the gentleman, and the scholar. 

Even in its earliest days, the egalitarian impulse in America was 
linked with a distrust for -what in its germinal form may be called 
political specialization and in its later forms expertise. Popular writers, 
understandably proud of the political competence of the free man, 
were on the whole justifiably suspicious of the efforts of the cultivated 
and wealthy to assume an exclusive or excessively dominant role in 
government. Their suspicions did not stop there, however, but led 
many of them into hostility to all forms of learning. A current of anti- 
intellectualism can be found in some of the earliest expressions of 
popular political thought. In the revolutionary era, some popular 
writers assumed that efforts to limit the power of the rich and well 
born would have to include their allies, the learned classes, as well. A 
rural delegate to the convention elected in Massachusetts to decide on 
the ratification of the Constitution in 1788 explained his opposition to 
the document in these words: 3 

These lawyers, and men of learning, and moneyed men, that 
talk so finely, and gloss over matters so smoothly, to make us poor 
illiterate people swallow down, the pill, expect to get into Con 
gress themselves; they expect to be the managers of this constitu 
tion, and get all the power and all the money into their own hands, 
and then they will swallow up all us little folks, like the great 
Leviathan, Mr. President; yes, just as the whale swallowed up 
Jonah. This is what I am afraid of. 

We are fortunate to have, from the hands of a plain New England 
farmer, William Manning of North Billerica, Massachusetts, a political 

s Jonathan Elliot: Debates (Philadelphia, 1863), Vol. II, p. 102. 


pamphlet showing what one shrewd, militantly democratic American 
thought when he turned his mind to the philosophy of government. 
This spirited Jeffersonian document, The Key of Libberty, was written 
in 1798 at a time when party passions were at a high pitch. Noteworthy 
here is the central place accorded by Manning ( "not a Man of Laming 
my selfe for I never had the advantage of six months schooling in my 
life") to learning as a force in the political struggle. The opening words 
of his manuscript proclaim: "Learning & Knowledg is essential to the 
preservation of Libberty & unless we have more of it amongue us we 
Cannot Seporte our Libertyes Long." 4 But to Manning learning and 
knowledge were of interest mainly as class weapons. 

At the heart of Manning s philosophy was a profound suspicion of 
the learned and property-holding classes. Their education, their free 
time, and the nature of their vocations made it possible, he saw, for the 
merchants, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and executive and judicial 
officers of state to act together in pursuit of their ends, as the laboring 
man could not. Among these classes there is, he thought, a general dis 
like of free government: they constantly seek to destroy it because it 
thwarts their selfish interests. 

To ef ect this no cost nor pains is spared, but they first unite their 
plans and schemes by asotiations, conventions & corraspondances 
with each other. The Marchents asotiate by themselves, the 
Phitisians by themselves, the Ministers by themselves, the Juditial 
and Executive Officers are by their professions often called to 
gether & know each others minds, & all Ictirary men & the over 
grown rich, that can live without labouring, can spare time for 
consultation. All being bound together by common interest, which 
is the strongest bond of union, join in their secret correspondance 
to counter act the interests of the many & pick their pockets, 
which is efected ondly for want of the mcens of knowledg 
amongue them. 

Since learning is an instrument for the pursuit of one s interests, "the 
few" naturally favor the institutions that serve their own class: "the 
few are always crying up the advantages of costly collages, national 
acadimyes & grammer schooles, in ordir to make places for men to live 
without work and so strengthen their party. But are always opposed to 

4 Samuel Eliot Morison, ed.: The Key of Libberty (Billerica, Mass., 1922). The 
work is reprinted in William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., Vol. XIII (April, 1956), 
pp. 2.03-54, and quotations in the following paragraphs are from pp. aai, 222, 0,2,6, 

153 The Decline of the Gentleman 

schooles & woman schooles, the ondly or prinsaple means by 
which laming is spred amongue the Many." In the colleges ( Manning 
no doubt had Federalist Harvard in mind) the principles of republi 
canism are criticized, and the young are indoctrinated with mon 
archical notions. Manning also observed that the graduates of these 
institutions "are taught to keep up the dignity of their professions" 
and to this he objected because it made them set too high a value on 
their services, and thus made religious and educational services ex 
pensive to the many: "For if we apply for a preacher or a School 
Master, we are told the price, So Much, & they cant go under, for it is 
agreed upon & they shall be disgrased if they take less." As Manning 
saw it, the schoolmaster ought to become what in fact he did become 
in America an inexpensive hired laborer of very low status. > 

Here, then, is the key to Manning s educational strategy. Education 
was to be made cheap for the common man; and higher education, 
such as there was, would be organized simply to serve elementary 
education to provide inexpensive instructors for the common schools. 
"Larning . . . aught to be promoted in the cheepest and best manner 
possable" in such a way, that is, that "we should soone have a plenty 
of school masters & misstrisejs as cheep as we could hire other labour, & 
Labour & Larning would be connected together & lessen the number of 
those that live without work." It must be said that Manning s prescrip 
tion, offered at a time when the vaunted common school system of 
Massachusetts was being neglected, had its point. But in the interests 
of the lower reaches of the educational system he proposed to strip the 
upper reaches, to reduce their functions to that of producing cheap 
academic labor. Advanced learning Manning considered to have no 
intrinsic value worth cultivating. Academies and classical studies that 
went beyond what was necessary "to teach our Children a b c" were 
"ondly to give imploy to gentlemens sons & make places for men to live 
without worke. For their is no more need for a mans haveing a knowl 
edge of all the languages to teach a Child to read write & cifer than 
their is for a farmer to have the marinors art to hold plow." Education 
had been for a long time the instrument of the few; Manning hoped to 
make it, so far as possible, the instrument of the many. Of its instru 
mental, and hence subservient, character he had no doubt; nor did he 
worry about the consequence of his policy for high culture which 
was, after all, the prerogative of those who lived without work. 

The place of education, in this controversy between the few and the 
many, is a perfect paradigm of the place of high culture in American 


politics. Education was caught between a comfortable class only im 
perfectly able to nourish it, and a powerful, upsurging, egalitarian 
public chiefly interested in leveling status distinctions and in stripping 
the privileged of the instruments of privilege. Understandably, the 
common man wanted to protect his interests and use education to 
expand his social opportunities; no one seemed able to show him how 
to do this without damage to intellectual culture its elf. \ 

That there was a certain rough justice in Manning s contentions 
cannot be denied. The Federalists had indeed appropriated Harvard 
College; why should the democrats not retaliate by appropriating as 
far as they could the instruments of common education? If they could 
have their way, there would be no more Harvard Colleges. If a learned 
class could do nothing but support privilege, there need be no learned 
class. Almost half a century after Manning wrote his essay, Horace 
Greeley argued that the American yeoman did in fact appreciate and 
respect talent and learning; but that all too often he found them 
"directed to the acquisition of wealth and luxury by means which add 
little to the aggregate of human comforts, and rather subtract from his 
own especial share of them." G Hence, as the demand for the rights of 
the common man took form in nineteenth-century America, it included 
a program for free elementary education, but it also carried with it a 
dark and sullen suspicion of high culture, as a creation of the enemy. 

3 * 

Something was missing in the dialectic of American populistic democ 
racy. Its exponents meant to diminish, if possible to get rid of, status 
differences in American life, to subordinate educated as well as 
propertied leadership. If the people were to rule, if they aspired to get 
along with as little leadership as possible from the educated and 
propertied classes, whence would their guidance come? The answer 
was that it could be generated from within. As popular democracy 
gained strength and confidence, it reinforced the widespread belief in 
the superiority of inborn, intuitive, folkish wisdom over the cultivated, 
oversophisticated, and self-interested knowledge of the literati and 
the well-to-do A Just as the evangelicals repudiated a learned religion 
and a formally constituted clergy in favor of the wisdom of the heart 
and direct access to God, so did advocates of egalitarian politics pro- 

e In an address at Hamilton College, January #3, 1844, quoted in Merle Curti: 
American Paradox ( New Brunswick, 1956 ), p. 20; cf. pp. 19-24, 

X 55 The Decline of the Gentleman 

pose to dispense with trained leadership in favor of the native practical 
sense of the ordinary man with its direct access to truth. This prefer 
ence for the wisdom of the common man flowered, in the most extreme 
statements of the democratic creed, into a kind of militant popular 

Even Jefferson, who was neither an anti-intellectual nor a dogmatic 
egalitarian, seemed at times to share this preference. To his nephew, 
Peter Carr, he wrote in 1787: "State a moral case to a ploughman and a 
professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better than the 
latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules." 6 Jefferson 
was simply expressing a conventional idea of eighteenth-century think 
ing: the idea that God had given man certain necessary moral senti 
ments. It would not have occurred to him to assert the intellectual 
superiority of the plowman. But one need only go one step further than 
Jefferson, and say that political questions were in essence moral 
questions, 7 to lay a foundation for the total repudiation of cultivated 
knowledge in political life. For if the plowman understood morals as 
well as the professor, he would understand politics equally well; and 
he was likely to conclude (here Jefferson would not have agreed) that 
he had little to learn from anyone, and had no need of informed lead 
ers. Push the argument just a bit further and it would support the as 
sertion that anyone who had anything of the professor about him made 
an inferior leader; and that political leaders should be sought from 
among those who in this respect resembled the untutored citizen. 
Ironically, Jefferson himself was to suffer from this notion. Later it be 
came one of the rallying cries of Jacksonian democracy. 

The first truly powerful and widespread impulse to anti-intellectual- 
ism in American politics was, in fact, given by the Jacksonian move 
ment. Its distrust of expertise, its dislike for centralization, its desire to 

G Writings, A. E. Bergh, ed., Vol. VI (Washington, 1907), pp. 257-8, August 10, 
1787. Jefferson was advising his nephew on the conduct of his education, and his 
chief concern was to establish the point that much study of moral philosophy was 
"lost time." If moral conduct were a matter of science rather than sound impulse, he 

E ointed out, the millions who had no formal learning would be less moral than the 
,jw who had. Clearly, God had not left men without a moral sense, and a very 
small stock of reason or common sense would be needed to implement it. This 
was, of course, a familiar doctrine. Jefferson may well have been led to it by the 
writings of Lord JCames. One may wonder, however, if the study of moral philoso 
phy was useless, why Jefferson had read so widely in this field. On the problems 
created in his thinking by this doctrine, see Adrienne Koch: The Philosophy of 
Thomas Jefferson ( New York, 1943 ) , chapter 3. 

r As, a century after JelTerson, William Jennings Bryan most explicitly did: "The 
great political questions are in their final analysis great moral questions." Paxton 
Hibberi: The Peerless Leader (New York, 1929), p. 194, 


uproot the entrenched classes, and its doctrine that important func 
tions were simple enough to be performed by anyone, amounted to a 
repudiation not only of the system of government by gentlemen which 
the nation had inherited from the eighteenth century, but also of the 
special value of the educated classes in civic life. In spite of this, many 
intellectuals and men of letters, particularly the young, supported the 
Jacksonian cause enough, indeed, to belie the common charge that 
the educated classes regularly withheld their sympathies from move 
ments meant to benefit the common man. It is true that the leading 
literary quarterlies were devoted to gentility and remained in the 
hands of the Whig opposition; but when John L. O Sullivan founded 
the Democratic Review he was able to get contributions from a distin 
guished roster of writers of varying political persuasions. It is also true 
that the leading New England Transcendentalists were largely aloof or 
hostile. But writers like Orestes Brownson, William Cullen Bryant, 
George Bancroft, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 
James Kirke Paulding, and Walt Whitman supported the new democ 
racy with varying degrees of cordiality and persistence. 8 

The support of such men was welcomed in Jacksonian ranks, and 
was sometimes greeted with pride, but on the whole, intellectuals were 
not accorded much recognition or celebrity. The most outstanding ex 
ception was George Bancroft, the historian. In Massachusetts the 
Democrats felt the need of literary and intellectual leadership to 
counter the distinguished array of talent in the ranks of the opposition, 
and Bancroft assumed prominence in his party when he was still in his 
thirties. He was appointed Collector of the Port of Boston, became 
Secretary of the Navy under Polk (a post also given to Paulding by 
Van Buren), and was later minister to Great Britain. His influence 
enabled him to find a job for Hawthorne in the Boston Custom House 
and for Brownson (to Bancroft s prompt regret) as steward of the 
Marine Hospital there. The situation of Hawthorne represents the other 
side of the picture. He was constantly honored with jobs considerably 
slighter than his merits or his desperate needs would have dictated. In 
the Custom House he was no more than a weigher and gauger, and the 
post ( a "grievous thraldom/ he called it ) was a poor substitute for the 
position he had actually sought as historian to an expedition to the 
Antarctic. Later he sought the postrnastership of Salem and was made 
instead surveyor of the port. And finally, after writing a campaign 

the relation of Jacksonian democracy and the intellectuals, see Arthur 
, Jr.: The Age of Jackson (Boston, 1945 ), especially chapter 29. 

157 The Decline of the Gentleman 

biography of his friend and college classmate, Franklin Pierce, he was 
awarded a consulate but at Liverpool, On the whole, the record of 
Jacksonian democracy in achieving a rapprochement between the in 
tellectual or man of letters and the popular mind was inferior to that 
later achieved by Progressivism and tie New Deal; 

The contests in 1824 and 1828 between Jackson and John Quincy 
Adams provided a perfect study in contrasting political ideals. Adams s 
administration was the test case for the unsuitability of the intellectual 
temperament for political leadership in early nineteenth-century Amer 
ica. The last President to stand in the old line of government by gentle 
men, Adams became the symbol of the old order and the chief victim 
of the reaction against the learned man. He had studied in Paris, 
Amsterdam, Leyden, and The Hague, as well as at Harvard; he had 
occupied Harvard s chair of rhetoric and oratory; he had aspired to 
write epic poetry; like Jefferson, he was known for his scientific in 
terests; he had been head for many years of the American Academy 
of Arts and Sciences; and as Monroe s Secretary of State he had pre 
pared a learned scientific report on systems of weights and measures 
which is still a classic. Adams believed that if the new republic failed to 
use its powers to develop the arts and sciences it would be "hiding in 
the earth the talent committed to our charge would be treachery to 
the most sacred of trusts." It was his hope as it had been Washington s, 
Jefferson s and Madison s that the federal government would act as 
the guide and center of a national program of educational and scientific 
advancement. But in proposing that Washington be developed as a 
cultural capital, he mobilized against himself the popular dislike of 

In his first annual message to Congress, Adams proposed a system 
of internal improvements roads and canals advantageous to busi 
ness interests, and also asked for several things desired chiefly by men 
of the learned classes: a national university at Washington, a profes 
sional naval academy, a national observatory, a voyage of discovery to 
the Northwest to follow upon the expedition of Lewis and Clark, an 
efficient patent office, federal aid to the sciences through a new execu 
tive department. 

It was characteristic of Adams to offend the same bumptious popu 
lar nationalism to which Jackson so perfectly appealed. Adams pointed 
out that European countries, though less happily blessed with freedom 
than America, were doing more for science; and he had the temerity 
to suggest that some policies of the governments of France, Great 


Britain, and Russia could well be emulated here. Then, as now, such 
intellectual cosmopolitanism was unpopular. Having thus flouted na 
tional amour-propre, Adams went on to flout democratic sentiment by 
ur g^ n g generous appropriations for scientific purposes; he even sug 
gested in an inflammatory phrase that Congressional leaders should not 
"fold up our arms and proclaim to the world that we are palsied by the 
will of our constituents/ Worse still, Adams referred provocatively 
to the many observatories built under the patronage of European gov 
ernments as "lighthouses of the skies/* Congress snickered at this 
phrase, and the lighthouses were thrown back at Adams time and 
again. His own Cabinet saw that the President s program would shock 
the country Clay, for instance, found the proposal of a national 
university "certainly hopeless/ and doubted that Adams could get five 
votes in the House for his proposed executive department and in the 
end Adams had to give it up. He represented a kind of leadership 
which had outlived its time. Hamilton, Washington, even Jefferson, 
had been interested in a measure of centralization within some kind 
of national plan, and had expressed the desire common among the 
gentlemen of the Eastern seaboard to give some order to the expansion 
of America. But the country grew too fast for them, and would ac 
cept no plan and no order. As their type became obsolete in politics, 
the position of the man of intellect also deteriorated. Adams was the 
last nineteenth-century occupant of the White House who had a knowl 
edgeable sympathy with the aims and aspirations of science or who 
believed that fostering the arts might properly be a function of the 
federal government. 

As Adams embodied the old style, Andrew Jackson embodied the 
new; and the opposition between these two in the politics of the 1820*5 
symbolized what America had been and what it would become. In 
headlong rebellion against the European past, Americans thought of 
"decadent" Europe as more barbarous than "natural" America; they 
feared that their own advancing civilization was "artificial" and might 
estrange them from Nature. Jackson s advocates praised him as the 
representative of the natural wisdom of the natural man. Among his 
other gifts as a national leader, the hero of New Orleans, the con 
queror of the "barbaric" army of cultivated Britain was able to offer 

9 For Adams s program, see J, R. Richardson: Messages and Papers of the Presi 
dents (New York, 1897), Vol. II, pp. 865-83, and the comments of A. Hunter 
Dupree: Science in the Federal Government (Cambridge, 1957), pp. 39-43; c. 
Samuel Flagg Bemis: John Quincy Adams and the Union (New York, 1956), 
PP- 65-70. 

The Decline of the Gentleman 

reassurances as to the persistence of native vigor and the native style. 
Jackson, it was said, had been lucky enough to have escaped the formal 
training that impaired the "Vigour and originality of the understand 
ing." Here was a man of action, "educated in Nature s school/ who was 
"artificial in nothing"; who had fortunately "escaped the training and 
dialectics of the schools ; who had a "judgement unclouded by the 
visionary speculations of the academician"; who had, "in an extraor 
dinary degree, that native strength of mind, that practical common 
sense, that power and discrimination of judgement which^ for all use 
ful purposes, are more valuable than all the acquired learning of a 
sage"; whose mind did not have to move along "the tardy avenues of 
syllogism, nor over the beaten track of analysis, or the hackneyed walk 
of logical induction," because it had natural intuitive power and could 
go "with the lightning s flash and illuminate its own pathway." x 

George Bancroft, who must have believed that his own career as a 
schoolmaster had been useless, rhapsodized over Jackson s unschooled 
mind: 2 

Behold, then, the unlettered man of the West, the nursling of 
the wilds, the farmer of the Hermitage, little versed in books, un 
connected by science with the tradition of the past, raised by the 
will of the people to the highest pinnacle of honour, to the cen 
tral post in the civilization of republican freedom. . . . What 
policy will he pursue? What wisdom will he bring with him 
from the forest? What rules of duty will he evolve from the oracles 
of his own mind? 

Against a primitivist hero of this sort, who brought wisdom straight out 
of the forest, Adams, with his experience at foreign courts and his 
elaborate education, seemed artificial. Even in 1824, when Adams won 
a freakish f our-way election, Jackson was by far the more popular can 
didate; when the General returned to challenge him four years later, 
there could be no doubt of the outcome. Adams was outdone in every 
vscction of the country but New England, in a battle fought unscrupu 
lously on both sides and described as a contest between 

John Quincy Adams who can write 
And Andrew Jackson who can fight. 

1 The quotations from Jacksoninn literature are from John William Ward: 
Andrew Jackson; Symbol for an Age (New York, 1955), pp. 31, 49, 52, 53> 68. 1 am 
much indebted to Professor Ward s brilliant study of Jacksonian imagery. 

a Ward: op. eit., p. 73. 


The main case made by Jackson s spokesmen against Adams was that 
he was self -indulgent and aristocratic and lived a life of luxury. And, 
what is most relevant here, his learning and political training were 
charged up not as compensating virtues but as additional vices. A 
group of Jackson s supporters declared that the nation would not be 
much better off for Adams s intellectual accomplishments: 3 

That he is learned we are willing to admit; but his wisdom we 
take leave to question. . . , We confess our attachment to the 
homely doctrine: thus happily expressed by the great English 

That not to know of things remote 
From use, obscure and subtle, but to know- 
That which before us lies in daily life, 
Is the prime wisdom. 

That wisdom we believe Gen. Jackson possesses in an eminent de 

Another Jacksonian, speaking of the past record of the two, said: "Jack 
son made law, Adams quoted it/* 4 

Jackson s triumph over Adams was overwhelming. It would be an 
exaggeration to say that this was simply a victory of the man of action 
over the man of intellect, since the issue was posed to the voters 
mainly as a choice between aristocracy and democracy. But as the 
two sides fashioned the public images of the candidates, aristocracy 
was paired with sterile intellect, and democracy with native intuition 
and the power to act. 5 \ 

3 Address of the Republican General Committee of Young Men of the City and 
County of New York (New York, 1828), p. 41. 

4 Ward: op. cit., p. 63. 

5 Electoral appeals on both sides were lacking in truth and delicacy; and 
Adams never repudiated the viler aspersions cast by the Adams propagandists 
upon Jackson s lite with Mrs. Jackson. Adams seems to have been persuaded that 
these were justified. In 1831 he wrote in his diary that "Jackson lived in open 
adultery with his wife." Most of the Brahmin world found itself unable to embrace 
Jackson as President. Harvard did award him an honorary degree of Doctor of 
Laws at its 1833 commencement, but Adams refused to attend. "I -would not be 
present/* he wrote, "to see my darling Harvard disgrace herself by conferring a 
Doctor s degree upon a barbarian and savage who can scarcely spell his own 
name." Bemis: op. cit., p. 250; see also Adams s Memoirs, Vol. VIII (Philadelphia, 
1876), pp. 546-7. Adams was told by President Quincy of Harvard that he was 
well aware how "utterly unworthy of literary honors Jackson was," but that after a 
degree had been awarded to Monroe it would be necessary to honor Jackson to 
avoid the show of "party spirit/ At the occasion itself, Jackson appears to have 
charmed the hostile audience. But the rumor went about, and was widely believed 
by the credulous in Cambridge and Boston, that Jackson had responded to the 
ceremonies, which were in Latin, by rising and saying: "Caveat emptor: corpus 

i6i The Decline of the Gentleman 


Although the Jacksonians appealed powerfully to both egalitarian and 
anti-intellectual sentiments, they had no monopoly on either. It was 
not merely Jacksonianism that was egalitarian it was the nation itself. 
. The competitive two-party system guaranteed that an irresistible ap 
peal to the voters would not long remain in the hands of one side, for it 
would be copied. It was only a question of time before Jackson s op 
ponents, however stunned by the tactics of his supporters in 1828, 
would swallow their distaste for democratic rhetoric and learn to use it. 
Party leaders who could not or would not play the game would soon 
be driven off the fieldj 

A persistent problem facing party organizers who were linked to 
men of affairs to promoters of canals, banks, turnpikes, and manufac 
turing enterprises was to manage to identify themselves with the peo 
ple and to find safe popular issues -which they could exploit without 
risk to their interests. There was a premium on men who could keep 
touch with the common people and yet move comfortably and func 
tion intelligently in the world of political management and business 
enterprise, 6 Henry Clay was so gifted, and he had many of the qualities 
of a major public hero as well; but by the beginning of the 1830*5 he 
had been on the national scene too long; his views were too well 
known, and he was too closely associated with the discredited Adams 
to be of use. Most notable among the new party bosses with a good 
grasp of the problem was Thurlow Weed, who used the violently egali 
tarian passions of anti-Masonry to ride into prominence, and who 
became one of the greatest of the Whig, and then Republican, party 
organizers. But the anti- Jacksonians, for all they may have learned in 
182,8, did not find the figure who set quite the right style for them until 
Davy Crockett bolted from the ranks of the Jacksonians. 

Frontiersman, hunter, fighter, and spokesman of the poor Western 
squatter, Crockett became a major American folk symbol, and his 
autobiography a classic of American frontier humor. Unembarrassed 
by wealth or education, Crockett was drawn into politics by the force 

delicti: ex post facto: dies irae: e pluribus unum: usque ad nauseam: Ursa Major: 
sic semper tyrannis: quid pro quo: requiescat in pace." See the recollections of 
Josiah Quincy: Figures of the Past (Boston, 19^6), pp. 304-7. 

6 Cf. the analysis of the situation in Glyndon G. Van Deusen: Thurlow Weed: 
Wizard of the Lobby (Boston, 1947), pp. 42-4; and Whitney R. Cross: The 
Burned-Over District (Ithaca, 1950), pp. 11417. 


of his own appeal. When he was about thirty, and newly arrived at a 
small settlement on Shoal Creek in Tennessee, he was appointed jus 
tice of the peace., was soon elected colonel of the militia regiment 
organized in his district, and then sent to the state legislature. In 1826, 
after it had been casually suggested to him that he run for Congress, 
he waged a campaign enlivened by funny stories, and found himself 
elected. Tennessee now had a representative in Congress who could 
"wade the Mississippi, carry a steam-boat on his back, and whip his 
weight in wild cats," and who was not afraid, for all his simplicity, to 
address the House because he could "whip any man in it." 

It was Crockett s pride to represent the native style and natural in 
tuition. In his autobiography, published in 1834, Crockett boasted of 
the decisions he handed down from the Tennessee bench at a time 
when he "could just barely write my own name/* "My judgments were 
never appealed from, and if they had been they would have stuck like 
wax, as I gave my decisions on the principles of common justice and 
honesty between man and man, and relied on natural born sense, and 
not on law learning to guide me; for I had never read a page in a law 
book in all my life." 7 This ingenuous confidence in the sufficiency of 
common sense may have been justified by Crockett s legal decisions, 
but he was not content to stop here: he had a considered disdain for 
the learned world. At one point in his Congressional career, Crockett 
reported: 8 

There were some gentlemen that invited me to go to Cam 
bridge, where the big college or university is; where they 
keep ready-made titles or nicknames to give people. I would not 
go, for I did not know but they might stick an LL.D. on me before 
they let me go; and I had no idea of changing "Member of the 
House of Representatives of the United States/* for what stands 
for lazy lounging dunce," which I am sure my constituents 
would have translated my new title to be, knowing that I had 
never taken any degree, and did not own to any, except a small 
degree of good sense not to pass for what I was not. . . . 

Crockett, who had fought under Jackson in the Creek War in 
1813-14, first went to Congress as a member of the Jacksonian group 

7 Hamlin Garland, ed.: The Autobiography of ~Davy Crockett (New York, 
1923), p. 90. 

8 Ibid., p. 180. The main butt of the humor here was Andrew Jackson, who had 
already received his Harvard degree. "One digniterry" said Crockett, "was enough 
from Tennessee/* 

The Decline of the Gentleman 

from Tennessee and as a representative of the poor Western squatters 
of the state, whose condition was very much what his had once been. 
Before long, he found these two loyalties in conflict. A group of Ten- 
nesseeans, led by James K. Pollc, was attempting to get the United 
States to cede to the state some unappropriated Western District lands 
as an endowment for education. The interests of education and the 
interests of the poorer classes seemed unfortunately to be thrown into 
conflict at this time, and Crockett, as the representative of the squat 
ters, naturally looked askance at Folk s land bill. Land warrants held 
by the University of North Carolina had already caused some of his 
constituents to lose their homes. Crockett concluded that the proposal 
to use part of the land proceeds for a college in Nashville would in the 
same way hurt others. His constituents, he pointed out, would not be 
compensated by the development of colleges, for none of them could 
use them. If, he remarked, "we can only get a common country, or as 
College Graduates sometimes deridingly call it, a B-a school, con 
venient enough to send our Big Boys in the winter and our little ones 
all the year, we think ourselves fortunate, especially if we can raise 
enough Coon-Skins and one little thing or other to pay up the teacher 
at the end of every quarter.** 9 

Explaining in Congress that he was not an opponent of education, 
Crockett pointed out that he felt obliged, none the less, to defend the 
interests of the people he represented, who had "mingled the sweat of 
their brows with the soil they occupied," and who were now to have 
their "humble cottages" taken away from them by "the Legislature of 
the State, for the purpose of raising up schools for the children of the 
rich." x 

I repeat, that I was utterly opposed to this, not because I am 
the enemy of education, but because the benefits of education are 
not to be dispensed with an equal hand. This College system 
went into practice to draw a line of demarcation between the 
two classes of society it separated the children of the rich from 
the children of the poor. The children of my people never saw 

9 Quoted in Charles Grier Sellers, Jr.: James K. Polk, Jacksonian: 1795-1843 
(Princeton, 1957), pp. 123-4. On the land bill, see ibid., pp. 122-8; James A. 
Shackford: David Crockett, the Man and the Legend (Chapel Hill, 1956), 
pp. 90-9. 

1 Register of Debates, 2oth Congress, 2nd session, pp. 1623 (January 5, 1829). 
In raising the question of the diversion of funds for the use of colleges, Crockett 
was here using a false issue, since Polk had already attempted to mollify Crockett 
by inserting a requirement that the proceeds of land sales be used only for common 


the inside o a college in their lives, and never are likely to do so. 
. . . If a swindling machine is to be set up to strip them of what 
little the surveyors, and the colleges, and the warrant holders, 
have left them, it shall never be said that I sat by in silence, and 
refused, however humbly, to advocate their cause, 

We hear in this an echo of Manning s idea that common schools serve 
the people and colleges the rich. For American society it was tragic 
that the interests of higher education and those of the ordinary citizen 
should thus be allowed to appear to be in conflict. But to the Adams- 
Clay men, always under severe pressure from the Jackson forces, the 
split in the ranks of the Tennessee Jacksonians came as a gift from 
heaven. Before long, the astute opposition organisers, realizing that 
to have a pioneer democrat in their ranks would give them a magnifi 
cent counterpoise to Jackson, approached Crockett and took advantage 
of his alienation from the Jackson men in his state and his long-standing 
personal resentment of the President to bring him around to the opposi 
tion. This alliance between Crockett and the national anti-Jackson 
forces, negotiated by Matthew St. Clair Clarke, a friend of Nicholas 
Biddle, the president of the United States Bank, was apparently in the 
making as early as 1829 and was clearly consolidated by 1832. Crock 
ett s Congressional speeches began to be written for him, and various 
parts of his famous Autobiography were also ghost-written, though 
they have about them the air of Crockett s own dictation. 2 In 1835 
Crockett published an assault upon Martin Van Buren that prefigured 
the full-blown demagogy of the Whig campaign of 1840. 

By 1840 the conquest of the Whig Party by the rhetoric of populism 
was complete. Crockett, who was too provincial and too unreliable to 
have presidential stature, had gone off to Texas, had been killed in the 
defense of the Alamo, and had begun to be transformed into a demi 
god; but in the presidential election of 1836 William Henry Harrison, 
like Jackson a hero of early Indian campaigns, had been found to have 
a similar public appeal. It mattered little that his famous victory over 
Tecumseh s forces at Tippecanoe in 1811 had been something of a 
fiasco; with skillful publicity and some lapse of memory on the part 
of the public, it could be glorified into a feat comparable, almost, to 
Old Hickory s victory at New Orleans. The common touch was sup 
plied in 1840 by the log-cabin and hard-cider theme, although Har 
rison lived in a rather substantial mansion on the banks of the Ohio. It 

2 The most satisfactory account of Crockett s rapprochement with the Eastern 
conservatives and the authorship o his speeches and autobiographical writings is 
tihatof Shackford: op. cit., pp. 

165 The Decline of the Gentleman 

seems in fact to have been the depression that tipped the scales against 
Van Buren, but the Whigs tried to assure their victory by using against 
him the same techniques of ballyhoo and misrepresentation that the 
Jacksonians had used against John Quincy Adams twelve years earlier. 
Representative Charles Ogle of Pennsylvania struck the keynote of the 
campaign in April when he delivered in the House his masterful ad 
dress on "The Regal Splendor of the President s Palace," which was 
distributed as a pamphlet in thousands of copies. Speaking against a 
trifling appropriation of some $3,600 for alterations and repairs in the 
White House and its grounds, Ogle entertained the House with a fan 
tastic account of the luxurious life of Martin Van Buren, easily eclipsing 
similar claims that had been made against Adams in 1828. This tirade 
reached a climax when Ogle denounced Van Buren for having in 
stalled in the White House some bathtubs which, in Ogle s opulent 
phrases, took on the dimensions of the baths of Caracalla. 3 

A Whig banner of 1840 proclaimed, with all too much truth: "WE 
STOOP TO CONQUER." Cultivated and hitherto fastidious men, 
once opposed to universal manhood suffrage, now proclaimed them 
selves friends of the people and gave their consent to the broadest and 
most irrational campaign techniques. Eminent politicians, raised on 
the controversies of an earlier and somewhat more restrained era, may 
have gagged, but they went along with the use of what one newspaper 
called "The Davy Crockett Line." A reserved and cultivated Southern 
aristocrat, Hugh Swinton Legare, swallowed his distaste and went on a 
speaking tour. Daniel Webster was inspired to say that although he 
had not had the good fortune to be born in a log cabin, "my elder 
brother and sisters were. . . . That cabin I annually visit, and thither 
I carry my children, that they may learn to honor and emulate the stern 
and simple virtues that there found their abode. . . /* Anyone who 
called him an aristocrat was "not only a LIAR but a COWARD," and 
must be prepared to fight if Webster could get at him. Henry Clay, for 
his part, said privately that he "lamented the necessity, real or imag 
ined ... of appealing to the feelings and passions of our Country 
men, rather than to their reasons and judgments/* and then did exactly 

Sensitive men in the Whig ranks may have shrunk from the rhetoric 
of the log-cabin, hard-cider campaign, but if they wanted to stay in 
politics they could not shrink too long. The gentleman as a force in 
American politics was committing suicide. John Quincy Adams, watch- 

3 Charles Ogle: The Regal Splendor of the President s Palace (n.p., 1840), 
especially p. 2,3. 


ing the discouraging spectacle from Washington, found in this boister 
ous election "a revolution in the habits and manners of the people." 4 
The process set in motion decades earlier, and poignantly symbolized 
by his own expulsion from the White House in 1829, had reached its 
fulfillment. "This appears to be the first time in our history," Morgan 
Dix commented, "in which a direct appeal was made to the lower 
classes by exciting their curiosity, feeding the desire for amusement, 
and presenting what is low and vulgar as an inducement for support. 
Since that day the thing has been carried farther, until it is actually a 
disadvantage to be of good stock and to have inherited the grand old 
name of gentleman/ " 5 

The withdrawal of the soberer classes from politics went on, hastened 
by the new fevers aroused by slavery and sectional animosities. As 
early as 1835 Tocqueville had commented on the "vulgar demeanor" 
and the obscurity of the members of the House; he would have found 
the deterioration quite advanced, had he returned in the 1850*5. "Do 
you remark," wrote Secretary of the Navy John Pendleton Kennedy to 
his uncle in the 1850 $, "how lamentably destitute the country is of 
men in public station of whom we may speak with any pride? . . . 
How completely has the conception and estimate of a gentleman been 
obliterated from the popular mind! Whatever of that character we 
have seems almost banished from the stage/* 6 In 1850, Francis Bowen, 
writing in the North American Review., found that both Houses of 
Congress had been "transformed into noisy and quarrelsome debating 
clubs." 7 

Furious menaces and bellowing exaggeration take the place of 
calm and dignified debate; the halls of the capitol often present 
scenes which would disgrace a bear-garden; and Congress attains 
the unenviable fame of being the most helpless, disorderly, and in 
efficient legislative body which can be found in the civilized world. 

4 For this campaign and the quotations, see Robert G. Gunderson: The Log- 
Cabin Campaign (Lexington, 1957), especially pp. 3, 7, 101-7, 134, 1612, 179-86, 
i 18. 

5 Memoirs of John A. Dix ( New York, 1883 ) , Vol. I, p, 165. 

6 Henry T. Tuckerman: Life of John Pendleton Kennedy (New York, 1871), 
p. 187. 

7 "The Action of Congress on the California and Territorial Questions/* North 
American Review, Vol. LXXI ( July, 1850 ) , pp. 2,2,4-64. 

167 The Decline of the Gentleman 

Representative Robert Toombs of Georgia concurred, The present 
Congress, he wrote to a friend, "furnishes the worst specimens of 
legislators I have ever seen here. . . . There is a large infusion of suc 
cessful jobbers, lucky serving men ? parishless parsons and itinerant 
lecturers among them who are not only without wisdom or knowledge 
but have bad manners, and therefore we can have but little hope of 
good legislation." s By 1853 ft was deemed necessary to forbid Con 
gressmen by law to take compensation for prosecuting any claim 
against the government, and to prescribe penalties against bribery. 9 
Deterioration reached the point of outright helplessness in 1859, when 
the House found itself almost unable to agree on a Speaker. Young 
Charles Francis Adams was in Washington that year visiting his father, 
who was then a Congressman. As he later recalled: x 

I remember very well the Senate and House at that time. Nei 
ther body impressed me. The House was a national bear-garden; 
for that was, much more than now, a period of the unpicturesque 
frontiersman and the overseer. Sectional feeling ran high, and bad 
manners were conspicuously in evidence; whiskey, expectoration 
and bowie-knives were the order of that day. They were, indeed, 
the only land of Border" observed in the House, over which poor 
old Pennington, of New Jersey, had as a last recourse been chosen 
to preside, probably the most wholly and all-round incompetent 
Speaker the House ever had. 

In the earlier days of the Republic it had been possible for men in 
high places to add to their ranks with confidence other men of talents 
and distinction. This process was not as undemocratic as it may sound, 
since those who were thus co-opted were often men without advan- 

8 U. B. Phillips, ed.: The Correspondence of Robert Toombs y Alexander H. 
Stephens, and HoweU Cobb, American Historical Association Annual Report, 1911, 
Vol. II, p. 188. 

9 Leonard D. White; The Jacksonians, p. 27. On deterioration in Congress and 
the public service, see pp. 257, 325-32, 343-6, 398-9, 411420. 

1 An Autobiography (Boston, 1916) pp. 434. This was, of course, only a few 
years after the famous assault on Smrrner by Brooks; during the same year a 
Congressman shot and killed a waiter out of annoyance with hotel dining-room 
service in Washington. On the state of Congress in the 1850*8, see Roy F. Nichols: 
The Disruption of American Democracy (New York, 1948), pp. 23, 68, 188-91, 
273-6, 284-7, 331-2. On the background of governmental decline, David Donald s 
Harmsworth Inaugural Lecture, "An Excess of Democracy: The American Civil 
War and the Social Process" (Oxford, 1960), is most stimulating. The decline of 
political leadership in the South has been particularly well traced in Clement 
Eaton: Freedom of Thought in the Old South (Durham, 1940), and Charles S. 
Sydnor: The Development of Southern Sectionalism,. 1819-1848 (Baton Rouge, 
1948), especially chapter 12. 


tages of birth and wealth. In 1808 It had been possible, for instance, for 
President Jefferson to write to William Wirt, a distinguished lawyer 
and essayist who had been born the son of an immigrant tavern- 
keeper, the following letter: 2 

The object of this letter ... is to propose to you to come into 
Congress. That is the great commanding theatre of this nation, and 
the threshold to whatever department or office a man is qualified 
to enter. With your reputation, talents, and correct views, used 
with the necessary prudence, you ttfiZZ at once be placed at the 
head of the republican body in the House of Representatives; and 
after obtaining the standing which a little time will ensure you, 
you may look, at your own will, into the military, the judiciary, the 
diplomatic, or other civil departments, tvith a certainty of being in 
either whatever you please. And in the present state of "what may 
be called the eminent talents of our country, you may be assured 
of being engaged through life in the most honourable employ 

A few years after Jefferson s death, the confident assumptions of this 
letter were no longer conceivable. The techniques of advancement 
had changed; the qualities that put an aspiring politician into rapport 
with the public became more important than those that impressed his 
peers or superiors. More men were pushed up from the bottom than 
selected from the top. 

The change in the standards of elected personnel was paralleled by 
the fate of the public service. The first tradition of the American civil 
service, established for the Federalists by Washington and continued 
by both Federalists and Jeffersonians until 1829, was a tradition of 
government by gentlemen. 3 By contemporary European standards of 
administration, Washington s initial criteria for appointments to Fed 
eral offices, although partisan, had been high. He demanded compe 
tence, and he also placed much emphasis both on the public repute and 
on the personal integrity of his appointees, in the hope that to name 

2 Writings, edited by Bergh, Vol. XI (Washington, 1904), pp. 42,34; italics are 

3 My conclusions with regard to the history of the civil service have followed 
Leonard D. White s invaluable histories: The Federalists (New York, 1948), The 
Jeffersonians (New York, 1951), The Jacksonians, already cited, and The Republi 
can Era 1869-1901 (New York, 1958). Paul P. Van Riper, in his History of the 
United States Civil Service (Evanston, Illinois, 1958), p. 11, remarks: "During the 
formative years of the American national government its public service was one of 
the most competent in the world. Certainly it was one of the freest from comrp- 
ticm." * 

169 The Decline of the Gentleman 

"such men as I conceive -would give dignity and lustre to our National 
Character" would strengthen the new government. The impersonal 
principle of geographical distribution of appointments was observed 
from the beginning, but nepotism was ruled out. By 1792 political al 
legiance began to play more of a role in appointments, but it was still a 
modest role, as indicated by the remark of Washington s successor, 
John Adams, that the first President had appointed "a multitude of 
democrats and jacobins of the deepest die." 4 The greatest obstacle to 
recruitment into public service was that rural opinion kept federal 
salaries low, and from the beginning the prestige of public service was 
not high enough to be consistently attractive, even to men chosen for 
cabinet posts. When the Jeffersonians replaced the Federalists, Jef 
ferson tried partly to calm the political hysteria of the previous years 
by avoiding wholesale public-service removals for political reasons 
alone; the most outspoken, intransigent, and active Federalist office 
holders were fired, but the quieter ones retained their jobs. The caliber 
of public officers remained the same, although Jefferson advanced the 
idea that the offices should be more or less equally divided between the 
parties. The old criteria of integrity and respectability prevailed, and 
whatever else may be said about Jefferson s "Revolution of 1800," it 
brought no revolution in administrative practice. Indeed, in this re 
spect, the remarkable thing was the continuity of criteria for choosing 
personnel. 5 

In the meantime, however, partisan use of patronage was becoming 
standard practice in some states, notably in Pennsylvania and New 
York. The idea of rotation in office spread from elective to appointive 
positions. With the rise of universal suffrage and egalitarian passions, 
older traditions of administration gave way during the iSzo s to a more 
candid use of patronage for partisan purposes. The principle of rota 
tion in office, which was considered the proper democratic creed, was 
looked upon by Jacksonians not as a possible cause of the deteriora 
tion of administrative personnel but rather as a social reform. Jack 
sonians saw the opportunity to gain office as yet another opportunity 

4 John Adams: Works (Boston, 1854), Vol. IX, p. 87. This was not said in com 
plete disapproval. Adams himself did not propose to proscribe the opposition, lest 
he exclude "some of the ablest, most influential., and best characters in the Union/ 

5 Van Riper remarks that, so far as partisanship is concerned, Jefferson pro 
scribed enough public employees to be considered, as much as Jackson, the founder 
of the national spoils system, but that, so far as the caliber and social type of ap 
pointees are concerned, neither he nor his chief associates "made any real indenta 
tion on the essentially upper-class nature of the federal civil service/* Op. cit., 
p. 2,3. 


available to the common man in an open society. The rotation of office 
holders, they held, would malce it impossible for an undemocratic, 
permanent officeholding class to emerge. Easy removals and easy ac 
cess to vacancies were not considered administrative -weaknesses but 
democratic merits. This conception was expressed most authorita 
tively by Andrew Jackson in his first annual message to Congress in 
December, 1829. 

Jackson argued that even when personal integrity made corruption 
unthinkable, men who enjoyed long tenure in office would develop 
habits of mind unfavorable to the public interest. Among long-standing 
officeholders, ^office is considered as a species of property, and govern 
ment rather as a means of promoting individual interests than as an 
instrument created for the service of the people." Sooner or later, 
whether by outright corruption or by the "perversion of correct feelings 
and principles/ government is diverted from its legitimate ends to 
become "an engine for the support of the few at the expense of the 
many." The President was not troubled by the thought of the numbers 
of inexperienced and untried men that rotation would periodically 
bring. "The duties of all public officers are, or least admit of being 
made, so plain and simple that men of intelligence may readily qualify 
themselves for their performance"; and more would be lost by keep 
ing men in office for long periods than would be gained as a result of 
their experience. In this, and in other passages, one sees Jackson s de 
termination to keep offices open to newcomers as a part of the demo 
cratic pattern of opportunity, and to break down the notion that of 
fices were a form of property. The idea of rotation in office he 
considered "a leading principle in the republican creed/* 6 

The issue was clearly drawn: offices were in fact regarded by all as 
a kind of property, but the Jacksonians believed in sharing such prop 
erty. Their approach to public offices was a perfect analogue of their 
anti-monopolistic position on economic matters. In a society -whose 
energy and vitality owed so much to the diffusion of political and eco 
nomic opportunities, there may have been more latent wisdom in this 
than Jackson s opponents were willing to admit. But the Jacksonian 
conviction that the duties of government were so simple that almost 

6 J. D. Richardson, ed.: Messages and Papers of the Presidents (New York, 
1897 ), Vol. Ill, pp. 1011 is. Several historians have pointed out that the actual 
numher of Jackson s removals was not very great. His administration was perhaps 
more notable for providing a rationale for removals. In later years, addiction to the 
spoils system became so acute that it invaded the factions within the parties. In the 
1850*8 the Buchanan Democrats were throwing out the Pierce Democrats. 

The Decline of the Gentleman 

anyone could execute them downgraded the functions of the expert 
and the trained man to a degree which turned insidious when the 
functions of government became complex. 7 Just as the gentleman was 
being elbowed out of the way by the homely necessities of American 
elections, the expert, even the merely competent man, was being 
restricted by the demands of the party system and the creed of rotation 
into a sharply limited place in the American political system. The 
estrangement of training and intellect from the power to decide and to 
manage had been completed. The place of intellect in public life had, 
unfortunately, been made dependent upon the gentleman s regard for 
education and training and had been linked too closely to his political 
fortunes. In nineteenth-century America this was a losing cause. 

7 In fact, the principle of rotation could not be quite so fully realized as 
Jacksonian pronunciamentos suggested. What emerged -was what Leonard D. 
White has called a "dual system/* in which, a patronage system and a career 
system existed side by side. Patronage clerks came and went, while a certain core of 
more permanent officers remained. See The Jacksonians, pp. 34762. 

[ 172 ] 


The Fate of the Reformer 


mid-century, the gentlemen had been reduced to a marginal 
role in both elective and appointive offices in the United States, and 
had been substantially alienated from American politics. For a time 
the Civil War submerged their discontents. The war was one of those 
major crises that suspend cultural criticism. It was a cause, a distrac 
tion, a task that urgently had to be done, and, on the whole, North 
erners of the patrician class rallied to the support of their country 
without asking whether the political culture they proposed to save was 
worth saving. Lincoln, as they came to know him, was reassuring, and 
he pleased them by appointing men of learning and letters to diplo 
matic posts Charles Francis Adams, Sr., John Bigelow, George Wil 
liam Curtis, William Dean Howells, and John Lothrop Motley. If 
American democratic culture could produce such a man, it was pos 
sible that they, after all, had underestimated it. 

But when the war was over, the failure of the system seemed only 
to have been dramatized. Hundreds of thousands of lives had been lost 
to redeem the political failures of the pre-war generation, and during 
the terrible fiasco of Reconstruction, it became clear that beyond the 
minimal goal of saving the Union nothing had been accomplished and 
nothing learned. The new generation of entrepreneurs was more vora 
cious than the old, and politics appeared to have been abandoned to 
bloody-shirt demagogy, to dispensing the public domain to railroad 
barons, and to the tariff swindle. The idealistic Republican Party of 
1856 had become the party of men like Benjamin F. Butler and Ben 

173 The Fate of the Reformer 

Wade, and the creature of the scandalmakers of the Grant administra 

Many reformers saw how the tide of events was running as early as 
1868, when Richard Henry Dana, Jr., tried to oust Benjamin F. Butler 
from his Massachusetts Congressional seat. For them the issue was 
sharply drawn: in the Bay State, the heart and center of the Brah 
min class and the moral and intellectual wellspring of the patrician 
type, one of their own kind was now trying to remove from the political 
scene the man who had become the pre-eminent symbol of candid 
cynicism in politics. This was, The New York Times thought, "a contest 
between the intelligent, sober-minded, reflective men of the district, 
and the unthinking, reckless, boisterous don*t-care-a-damnative portion 
of the community/ * It proved also to be a contest between a tiny 
minority and the overwhelming majority of the immigrants and work 
ers, marked by the almost classic ineptitude of Dana s electioneering 
techniques. 2 The dismal prospects of men of Dana s kind were harshly 
clarified by the election; Dana got less than ten per cent of the votes. 

The humiliation of Dana was the first of a series of shocks. The re 
formers friends were faring badly. Motley, on the strength of a rumor, 
was forced out of his diplomatic post by Andrew Johnson; reappointed 
by Grant, he was ditched once again because Grant wanted to strike 
through him at Sumner. Judge Ebenezer R. Hoar s nomination for 
the Supreme Court was rejected mainly because the politicians didn t 
like him. ("What could you expect/ asked Simon Cameron, "from a 
man who had snubbed seventy Senators?") The able economist, 
David A. Wells, was cut out of his office as special revenue agent be 
cause of his free-trade views. Jacob Dolson Cox, a leading advocate of 
civil-service reform, felt impelled by lack of presidential support to re 
sign as Grant s Secretary of the Interior. By 1870, Henry Adams, ex 
plaining why he had left Washington to teach at Harvard, wrote: "All 
my friends have been or are on the point of being driven out of the 

1 The New York Times, October 2,4, 1868. For years Butler used the Brahmins 
hatred of him as a political asset. A supporter in 1884 declared that he won 
elections because "all the snobs and all the dilettantes hate him, and Harvard 
College won t make him a doctor of laws. * H. C. Thomas: Return of the 
Democratic Party to Power in 1884 (New York, 1919), p. 139. 

2 It was in this campaign that Butler, driving a wedge between Dana and 
working-class constituencies, accused Dana of wearing white gloves. Dana ad 
mitted that he did at times wear white gloves and clean clothes, but assured his 
audience, the workingmen of Lynn, that when he spent two years before the mast 
as a young sailor, "I was as dirty as any of you." Benjamin F. Butler: Butler s Book 
(Boston, 1892), pp. 



government and I should have been left without any allies or sources 
of information." 3 

The young men who had hoped that the party of Lincoln and Grant 
might bring about a reform no longer had any illusions. As the grim 
shape of the new America emerged out of the smoke of the war, there 
emerged with it a peculiar American underground of frustrated aristo 
crats, a type of genteel reformer whose very existence dramatized the 
alienation of education and intellect from significant political and 
economic power. The dominant idea of the genteel reformers was 
public service; their chief issue, civil-service reform; their theoretical 
spokesman, E. L. Godkin of the Nation; their most successful political 
hero, Grover Cleveland. Their towering literary monument proved to 
be that masterpiece in the artistry of self-pity, Henry Adams s Educa 

The historian, looking back upon the genteel reformers and realizing 
how many grave social issues they barely touched upon and how many 
they did not touch at all, may be inclined to feel that their blood ran 
thin, and to welcome the appearance among them in later days of such 
a bold and distracted figure as John Jay Chapman. But this class rep 
resented the majority of the politically active educated men of the 
community; and the place of mind in American politics, if mind was to 
have any place at all, rested mainly upon their fortunes. This they 
understood themselves; it was what Lowell meant when he begged 
Godkin to protest in the Nation against "the queer notion of the Repub 
lican Party that they can get along without their brains" and Charles 
Eliot Norton when he made his pathetic if rather parochial plaint 
that "the Nation & Harvard & Yale College seem to me almost the only 
solid barriers against the invasion of modern barbarism & vulgarity." 4 
The reform type was not national or representative. As a rule, the 
genteel reformers were born in the Northeast mainly in Massachu 
setts, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania although a scattered 
few lived in those parts of the Middle West which had been colonized 
by Yankees and New Yorkers. Morally and intellectually these men 
were the heirs of New England, and for the most part its heirs by 

3 Adams to C. M. Gaskell, October 25, 1870, in W. C. Ford, ed.: Letters of 
Henry Adams (Boston, 1930), p. 196. 

4 J. R. Lowell to Godkin, December 20, 1871, in Rollo Ogden, ed.: Life and 
Letters of Edwin Lawrence Godkin (New York, 1907), Vol. II, p. 87; C. E. Norton 
to Godkin, November 3, 1871, in Ari Hoogenboom: Outlawing the Spoils 
( Urbana, Illinois, 1961 ) , p. 99. 

175 The Fate of the Reformer 

descent. They carried on the philosophical concerns of Unitarianism 
and transcendentalism, the moral animus of Puritanism, the crusading 
heritage of the free-soil movement, the New England reverence for 
education and intellectualism, the Yankee passion for public duty and 
civic reform. 

They struck the Yankee note, one must add, of self-confidence and 
self -righteousness; most of the genteel reformers were certain of their 
own moral purity. "Each generation of citizens/ 7 declared the publisher 
George Haven Putnam, describing them in his autobiography, "pro 
duces a group of men who are free from self-seeking and who, recog 
nizing their obligations to the community, are prepared to give their 
work and their capacities for doing what may be in their power for the 
service of their fellow-men." 5 This capacity for disinterested service 
was founded upon financial security and firm family traditions. The 
genteel reformers were not usually very rich, but they were almost in 
variably well-to-do. Hardly any were self-made men from obscure or 
poverty-stricken homes; they were the sons of established merchants 
and manufacturers, lawyers, clergymen, physicians, educators, editors, 
journalists, and publishers, and they had followed their fathers into 
business and the professions. Their education was far above the ordi 
nary: at a time when college diplomas were still rare, there were among 
them an impressive number with B.A/s, and most of those who lacked 
B.A/s had law degrees. Several were historians, antiquarians, and col 
lectors; others wrote poetry, fiction, or criticism. A high proportion of 
the college men had gone to Harvard or Yale, or to such outposts of the 
New England educational tradition as Amherst, Brown, Williams, 
Dartmouth, and Oberlin. Those whose religious affiliations can be 
determined belonged ( aside from a few independents and skeptics ) to 
the upper-class denominations, and especially those most affected by 
the New England tradition or those which appealed to mercantile 
patricians Congregationalists, Unitarians, and Episcopalians. 6 

Politically and morally, as Henry Adams so poignantly demonstrated, 

5 George Haven Putnam: Memories of a Publisher (New York, 1915), p. 112. 

6 My generalizations about the reformers are based on an analysis of factors in 
the careers of 191 men in an unpublished master s essay at Columbia University 
written by James Stuart McLachlan: The Genteel Reformers; 18651884 (1958). 
His conclusions are similar to those in Ari Hoogenboom s analysis of civil-service 
reformers, op. cit., pp. 190-7. Cf. his essay, "An Analysis of Civil Service Re 
formers," The Historian, Vol. XXIII (November, 1960), pp. 54-78. Paul P. Van 
Riper emphasizes the prior abolitionist sympathies of these reformers, and their 
preoccupation with individual liberty and political morality; op. cit., pp. 78-86. 


the genteel reformers -were homeless. They had few friends and no 
allies* Almost everywhere in American life in business as -well as in 
politics an ingenuous but coarse and ruthless type of person had taken 
over control of affairs, a type Adams found in possession -when he re 
turned to Washington from England after the Civil War: 7 

In time one came to recognize the type in other men [than 
Grant], with differences and variations, as normal; men whose 
energies were the greater, the less they wasted on thought; men 
who sprang from the soil to power; apt to be distrustful of them 
selves and of others; shy; jealous, sometimes vindictive; more or 
less dull in outward appearance, always needing stimulants; hut 
for whom action was the highest stimulant the instinct of fight. 
Such men were forces of nature, energies of the prime, like the 
Pteraspis, but they made short work of scholars. They had com 
manded thousands of such and saw no more in them than in 
others. The fact was certain; it crushed argument and intellect at 

Wherever men of cultivation looked, they found themselves facing 
hostile forces and an alien mentality. They resented the new plutocracy 
which overshadowed them in business and in public affairs a plu 
tocracy they considered as dangerous socially as it was personally vul 
gar and ostentatious; for it consisted of those tycoons about whom 
Charles Francis Adams, Jr., said that after years of association he had 
not met one that he would ever care to meet again, or one that could be 
"associated in my mind with the idea of humor, thought or refine 
ment." 8 No less vulgar were the politicians "lewd f ellows of the baser 
sort," Godkin called them * who compounded their vulgarity with in 
efficiency, ignorance, and corruption. Henry Adams had not long re 
turned to Washington when a Cabinet officer told him how pointless 
it was to show patience in dealing with Congressmen: "You can t use 
tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a 
stick and hit him on the snout! 3 Everyone in Boston, New England, and 
New York agreed in warning Adams that "Washington was no place 
for a respectable young man/* and he could see for himself that the 

7 The Education of Henry Adams (New York: Modern Library edition; 1931), 
p- 265. 

8 Charles Francis Adams: An Autobiography ( Boston, 1916), p. 190. 

9 E. L. Godkin: "The Main Question," Nation, Vol. IX (October 14, 1869), 

177 The Fate of the Reformer 

place had no tone, no society, no social medium through which the 
ideas of men of discernment and refinement could influence affairs. 1 

Society seemed hardly more at home than he. Both Executive 
and Congress held it aloof. No one in society seemed to have the 
ear of anybody in Government. No one in Government knew any 
reason for consulting any one in society. The "world had ceased to 
be wholly political, but politics had become less social. A survi 
vor of the Civil War like George Bancroft, or John Hay tried to 
keep footing, but without brilliant success. They were free to do or 
say what they liked, but no one took much notice of anything said 
or done. 

The genteel reformers were as much alienated from the general pub 
lic as they were from the main centers of power in the business corpo 
rations and the political machines. They had too much at stake in 
society to campaign for radical changes and too much disdain for other 
varieties of reformers to make political allies. The discontented farm 
ers, with their cranky enthusiasms and their monetary panaceas, in 
spired in them only distaste. Snobbishness and gentility, as well as 
class interest, estranged them from the working class and the im 
migrants. Charles Francis Adams, Jr., expressed a feeling common to 
his class when he said: "I don t associate with the laborers on my place"; 
and he was no doubt doubly right when he added that such association 
would not be "agreeable to either of us." 2 As for the immigrants, the 
reformers considered their role in the misgovernment of cities to be one 
of the chief sources of the strength of the bosses. Reformers were some 
times skeptical about the merits of unrestricted democracy and univer 
sal manhood suffrage, and toyed with the thought of education tests or 
poll taxes that would disfranchise the most ignorant in the electorate. 3 

Thus estranged from major social interests "which had different 
needs from their own, the genteel reformers were barred from useful 
political alliances and condemned to political ineffectuality. They had 

1 Adams: Education, pp. 261, 296, 320. Cf. James Bryce: "Why the Best Men 
Do Not Go into Politics/* The American Commonwealth (New York, 1897), 
Vol. II, chapter 57. 

2 Autobiography, pp. 1516. 

3 See "The Government of our Great Cities," Nation, Vol. Ill (October 18, 
1866), pp. 312-13; North American Review, Vol. CIII (October, 1866), pp. 413- 
65; Arthur F. Beringause: Brooks Adams (New York, 1955 )> PP- 60, 67; 
Barbara M. Solomon: Ancestors and Immigrants (Cambridge, Mass., 1956). On 
the outlook of the reformers, see Geoffrey T. Blodgett s sensitive account of "The 
Mind of the Boston Mugwump," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 
XL VIII (March, 1962), pp. 614-34. 


to content themselves with the hope that occasionally they could get 
their way by acting "on the limited number o cultivated minds/* 4 by 
appealing, as James Ford Rhodes put it, to men of "property and intel 
ligence." "We want a government/* said Carl Schurz in 1874, "which 
the best people of this country will be proud of." 5 What they were 
really asking for was leadership by an educated and civic-minded 
elite in a country which had no use for elites of any kind, much less 
for an educated one. "The best people" were outsiders. Their social 
position seemed a liability; their education certainly was. In 1888 
James Russell Lowell complained that "in the opinion of some of our 
leading politicians and many of our newspapers, men of scholarly 
minds are ipso facto debarred from forming any judgment on public 
affairs; or if they should be so unscrupulous as to do so ... they must 
at least refrain from communicating it to their fellow-citizens." 6 

Aware that their public following was too small to admit of a frontal 
attack on any major citadel of politics or administration, the genteel 
reformers were driven to adopt a strategy of independency. The margin 
of strength between the two major parties was frequently so narrow 
that, by threatening to bolt, a strong faction of independents might win 
an influence out of proportion to their numbers. 7 For a short time, the 
reformers seemed to be poised tantalizingly on the fringes of real in 
fluence. At first, they thought they might have some say in the Grant 
administration, and when Grant disappointed them, most of them took 
part in the ill-fated bolt of the Liberal Republicans in 1872. Then they 
were courted so carefully by Hayes that their expectations were 
aroused, only to be disappointed again. For the most part, they had to 
content themselves with limited victories, like the reform of the post 

4 Adams to Gaskell, quoted in Ernest Samuels: The Young Henry Adams 
(Cambridge, Mass., 1948), p. 182. C. Putnam s view: "It was our hope that as the 
youngsters came out of college from year to year with the land of knowledge of the 
history of economics that would be given to them by professors like William 
Graham Sumner of Yale, we should gradually secure a larger hold on public 
opinion, and through the influence of leaders bring the mass of the voters to an 
understanding of their own business interests." Putnam: op. cit., pp. 423. 

5 Quoted in Eric Goldman: Rendezvous with Destiny (New York, 1952), p. 2.4. 
One advocate of civil-service reform pointed out that in "the early days of the 
Republic" all public servants from cabinet officers down to subordinate members 
"were generally selected from well-known families," and argued that civil-service 
reform would reintroduce this practice. Julius Bing: "Civil Service of the United 
States/ 7 North American Review, Vol. CV ( October, 1867), pp. 4801. 

6 "The Place of the Independent in Politics," Writings, Vol. VI ( Cambridge, 
Mass., 1890), p. 190. 

7 On the strategy of independency, see James Russell Lowell: "The Place of the 
Independent in Politics," pp. 190 &.; and E. McChing Fleming: R. R, Bowker, 
Militant Liberal (New York, 1952), pp. 103-8. 

179 The Fate of the Reformer 

office and the New York Customs House, or the occasional appoint 
ment of such men as Hamilton Fish, E. R. Hoar, William M. Evarts, 
Carl Schurz, or Wayne MacVeagh, to Cabinet posts. Their happiest 
moment came in the election of 1884, when they convinced them 
selves that the Mugwump bolt from the Republican Party had swung 
the state of New York from Elaine to Cleveland, and with it the elec 
tion. But their outstanding legislative success was in civil-service re 
form, with the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883. This deserves 
special attention, for civil-service reform, the class issue of the gentle 
man, was a touchstone of American political culture. 

The central idea of the reformers the idea -which they all agreed upon 
and which excited their deepest concern was the improvement of the 
civil service, without which they believed no other reform could be 
successfully carried out. 8 The ideal of civil-service reform brought into 
direct opposition the credo of the professional politicians, who put then- 
faith in party organisation and party rewards and the practice of rota 
tion in office, and the ideals of the reformers, who wanted competence, 
efficiency, and economy in the public service, open competition for 
jobs on the basis of merit, and security of tenure. The reformers looked 
to various models for their proposals to the American military serv 
ices, to bureaucratic systems in Prussia or even China; but principally 
this English-oriented intellectual class looked for inspiration to Eng 
land, where civil-service reorganization had been under way since the 
publication of the Northcote-Trevelyan Report in 1854. 

The English civil-service reformers had designed their proposals in 
full awareness of the organic relation of the civil service to the class 
structure and to the educational system. They had planned a civil serv 
ice which, as Gladstone observed, would give the gentlemanly classes 
"command over all the higher posts" and allot to members of the lower 
classes the positions that could be filled by persons with more practical 
and less expensive training. 9 The scheme owed much to the influence 
of Lord Macaulay, who conceived of "a public service confined in its 
upper reaches to gentlemen of breeding and culture selected by a liter 
ary competition." The higher posts would be filled by gentlemen who 

8 On the centrality o this reform, see Paul P. Van Riper: op. cit., pp. 834. 

9 See J. Donald Kingsley: Representative Bureaucracy. An Interpretation of the 
British Civil Service (Yellow Springs, Ohio, 1944), pp. 6871 and passim. 


had received a rigorous classical training at one of the ancient univer 
sities, the lower posts by candidates with a less exalted education 
and within each category recruitment by competitive examination 
would guarantee the merit of those chosen. By 1877, Sir Charles 
Trevelyan, one of the leading reformers, reported to an American 
friend that the British changes had been not only successful but popu 
lar. "Large as the number of persons who profited by the former system 
of patronage were," he observed, 

those who were left out in the cold were still larger, and these 
included some of the best classes of our population busy profes 
sional persons of every kind, lawyers, ministers of religion of 
every persuasion, schoolmasters, farmers, shopkeepers, etc. These 
rapidly took in the idea of the new institution, and they gladly ac 
cepted it as a valuable additional privilege. 

Moreover, Sir Charles remarked, the same change that had increased 
the efficiency of the civil and military services lias given a marvellous 
stimulus to education." Formerly, upper-class boys who intended to go 
into public service had had no inducement to exert themselves be 
cause they were certain to get an appointment. Now they knew that 
their future depended in some good measure upon their own energies, 
and "a new spirit of activity has supervened. The opening of the civil 
and military services, in its influence upon national education, is 
equivalent to a hundred thousand scholarships and exhibitions of the 
most valuable kind. . . ." a 

The appeal of the British reformers to their American counterparts 
is quite understandable. The concern of the leading American re 
formers was not, for the most part, self-interested, in so far as most 
jobs that would be opened in the American civil service, if competitive 
examinations were adopted, would not be of sufficient rank to attract 
them. 2 But it was humiliating to know that by the canons of the society 
in which they lived they were not preferred for office and could not 

1 Sir Charles Trevelyan to Dorman B. Eaton, August 20, 1877, in Donnan B. 
Eaton: Civil Service in Great Britain: A History of Abuses and Reforms and Their 
Bearing upon American Politics ( New York, 1880 ) , pp. 430-2. 

2 No doubt many reformers hoped wistfully that the kind of recognition 
Lincoln had given to literary men might be resumed, but such posts were above 
and outside the civil-service system. Characteristically, the reformers aspired to 
elective rather than appointive office. About half of the leading reformers held 
office at one time or another, but chiefly in elective positions. A few went to 
Congress, but most of their elected offices were in state legislatures. McLachlan: 
op. cit., p. 25. 

i8i The Fate of the Reformer 

help their friends. 3 What was mainly at issue for them was a cultural 
and political ideal, a projection of their own standards of purity and 
excellence into governmental practice. It was the "national character" 
which was at stake. The principles of freedom and competitive superi 
ority which they had learned in their college courses in classical eco 
nomics and had applied to the tariff question ought to be applied to 
public office: open competition on the basis of merit should be the 
civil-service analogue of fair competition in industry. 4 But to the pro 
fessional politicians the means of determining merit the competitive 
examination seemed to have about it the aura of the school, and it in 
stantly aroused their hostility to intellect, education, and training. It 
was, as they began to say, a "schoolmaster^ test/ Touching the profes 
sions directly on a sensitive nerve, the issue brought forth a violent 
reaction which opened the floodgates of anti-intellectualist demagogy. 
The professionals denounced the idea of a civil service based upon 
examinations and providing secure tenure as aristocratic and imitative 
of British, Prussian, and Chinese bureaucracies; as deferential to 
monarchical institutions, and a threat to republicanism; and as mili 
taristic because it took as one of its models the examination require 
ments that had been instituted in the armed services. From the first, 
the distrust of trained intellect was invoked. When a bill calling 
for civil-service reform was introduced in 1868 by Representative 
Thomas A. Jenckes of Rhode Island, it was denounced in the House by 
John A. Logan of Illinois in these terms: 5 

This bill is the opening \vedge to an aristocracy in this country. 
... It will lead us to the point where there will be two national 

3 Consider the implications of Henry Adams s letter to Charles Francis 
Adams, Jr., April 29, 1869: "I can t get you an office. The only members of this 
Government that I have met axe mere acquaintances, not friends., and I fancy no 
request of mine would be likely to call out a gush of sympathy. [David Ames] 
Wells has just about as much, influence as I have. He can t even protect his own 
clerks. Judge Hoar has his hands full, and does not interfere with his colleagues. 
. . "Letters, p. 157. 

4 There was an assumption on the part of some that social standing would count, 
however, in the competition for jobs. Carl Schurz once proposed that "mere 
inquiries concerning the character, antecedents, social standing, and general 
ability [of a candidate] may be substituted for formal examination. Hoogenrjoom: 
op. cit., p. 115. 

5 Congressional Globe, 4oth Congress, 3rd session, p. 265 (January 8, 1869). It 
is suggestive that competitive civil service, so often criticized in the United States 
as undemocratic, was at times assailed in Britain as excessively democratic, and as 
throwing the aristocracy on the defensive in the competition for posts. Kiagsley: 
op. cit., p. 62,. Others felt that this would only raise the morale and tone of the 
class of gentlemen. Cf. Asa Briggs: Victorian People (London, 1954), pp. 


schools in this country one for the military and the other for 
civil education. These schools will monopolize all avenues o ap 
proach to the Government. Unless a man can pass one or another 
of these schools and be enrolled upon their lists he cannot receive 
employment tinder this Government, no matter how great may be 
his capacity, how indisputable may be his qualifications. When 
once he does pass his school and fixes himself for life his next care 
will be to get his children there also. In these schools the scholars 
will soon come to believe that they are the only persons qualified 
to administer the Government, and soon come to resolve that 
the Government shall be administered by them and by none 

It became clear, as the debate over civil service developed, that the 
professionals feared the demand for competence and the requirements 
of literacy and intelligence as a threat to the principles upon which the 
machines were based, and with this threat before them, there was 
almost no limit to the demagogy they would exert in behalf of the 
spoils principle. A Congressman from Indiana held up the frightening 
prospect that a graduate of, say, Washington College in Virginia, of 
which Robert E. Lee was president, would do better on a competitive 
examination than a disabled soldier of some "common school or work 
shop of the West, who lost a limb at the battle of Chickamauga." The 
people, he said, "are not quite ready to permit the students of rebel 
colleges, upon competitive examinations and scholastic attainments, to 
supersede the disabled and patriotic soldiers of the Republic, who with 
fewer educational advantages but larger practical experience are 
much better fitted for the position." 6 

In similar terms, Senator Matthew H. Carpenter of Wisconsin de 
claimed that during the Civil War, 7 

6 Congressional Globe, 4^nd Congress, 2nd session, p. 1103 (February 17, 
1872). This form of competition with college-trained men also troubled the 
veterans* organizations. See Wallace E. Davies: Patriotism on Parade (Cambridge, 
Mass., 1955), pp. 2,47, 285-6, 311. 

7 Congressional Globe, 4^nd Congress, and session, p. 458 (January 18, 1872). 
Many local bosses, of course, were as troubled as the Congressmen about the 
effect of competitive examinations on their procedures. **I suppose," objected the 
Boston boss, Patrick Macguire, apropos a Massachusetts civil-service law, "that if 
any one of my boys wants to have a position in any of the departments of Boston, to 
start with I shall have to send him to Harvard College. It is necessary that he 
should graduate with the highest honors, and I suppose that the youths who are 
now studying there can look forward to the brilliant career that waits for them in 
our metropolis when they shall have been educated up to the proper point where 

183 The Fate of the Reformer 

when the fate o the nation was trembling in the balance, and our 
gallant youths were breasting the storm of war, the sons of less 
patriotic citizens were enjoying the advantages of a college course. 
And now, when our maimed soldiers have returned, and apply 
for a Federal office, the duties of which they are perfectly com 
petent to discharge, they are to be rejected to give place to those 
who were cramming themselves with facts and principles from the 
books, while they were bleeding for their country, because they 
do not know the fluctuations of the tide at the Cape of Good Hope, 
how near the moon ever approaches the earth, or the names of the 
principal rivers emptying into the Caspian Sea. 

Suggesting that "admission into the kingdom of heaven does not de 
pend upon the result of a competitive examination/* the senator rang 
the changes on the contrast between formal education and practical 
intelligence: "The dunce who has been crammed up to a diploma at 
Yale, and comes fresh from his cramming, will be preferred in all civil 
appointments to the ablest, most successful, and most upright business 
man of the country, who either did not enjoy the benefit of early edu 
cation, or from whose mind, long engrossed in practical pursuits., the 
details and niceties of academic knowledge have faded away as the 
headlands disappear when the mariner bids his native land goodnight." 
Such comments were not confined to Northerners who were waving 
the bloody shirt. Representative McKee of Mississippi objected that 
educational criteria would make it almost impossible for the less edu 
cated sections of the country to capitalize on their old privileges under 
the geographic criterion for appointment. His complaint, quite candidly 
put, was that if competence were to be required he would be unable to 
get jobs for his Mississippi constituents. "Suppose," he said, "some wild 
mustang girl from New Mexico comes here for a position, and it may 
be that she does not know whether the Gulf stream runs north or 
south> or perhaps she thinks it stands on end, and she may answer that 
the Japan current is closely allied to the English gooseberry, yet al 
though competent for the minor position she seeks, she is sent back 
home rejected, and the place is given to some spectacled school ma am 
who probably has not half as much native sense as the New Mexi 
can." 8 McKee complained: 

they are able to handle the pick-axe and the shovel, and all others who don t have 

the good fortune to be well educated must stand aside and look for positions 

elsewhere." Quoted in Lucius B. Swift: Civil Service Reform (n.p., 1885), p. 10. 

8 Congressional Globe, 42nd Congress, 3rd session, p. 1631 (February 2,2, 1873). 


I Lad a constituent here who knew more than your whole civil 
service board. He was brought up here from Mississippi and they 
found him incompetent for the lowest grade of clerkship; and yet 
he is now cashier or teller of one of the largest banks on the Pacific 
slope. And they gave the appointment to a spectacled pedagogue 
from Maine, who, as far as business capacity and common sense 
was concerned, was not fit to be clerk to a boot-black. [Laughter.] 
That is the way it has been all along. 

For a long time the opponents of civil service succeeded in creating 
in the public mind a conception of civil-service reform which had very 
little to do with reality but which appealed formidably to egalitarian 
sentiments, machine cupidity, and anti-intellectualism. E. L. Godkin 
once remarked that when reform agitation first appeared, it was 
greeted as simply another of "the thousand visionary attempts to re 
generate society with which a certain class of literary men is supposed 
to beguile its leisure/* In the inner political circles, between 1868 and 
1878, it was known, with much mingled disgust and amusement, as 
"snivel service reform/ "The reformers were sometimes spoken of as a 
species of millennarians, and others as weak-minded people, who 
looked at political society as a sort of Sunday-school which could be 
managed by mild exhortation and cheap prizes, and whom it was the 
business of practical men to humor in so far as it could be done harm 
lessly, but not to argue with/ 7 9 The professional politicians succeeded 
in persuading themselves that civil-service reform meant favoritism to 
the college-educated; that it would restrict job-holding to a hereditary 
college-educated aristocracy; and that all kinds of unreasonable and 
esoteric questions would be asked on civil-service examinations. 
(R. R. Bowker protested that "a great deal of nonsense [is] talked and 
written about asking a man who had to clean streets questions about 
ancient history, astronomy, and Sanskrit/ ) The idea of a literate com 
petitive examination filled the anti-reformers with horror, a horror 
doubtless shared by many potential job applicants. "Henceforth/ de 
clared one of the more articular opponents of reform, 1 

entrance into the civil service is to be through the narrow portal 
of competitive examination, practically limiting entry to the 
graduates of colleges, thus admitting a Pierce and excluding a 

9 E. L. Godkin: "The Civil Service Reform Controversy," North American Re 
view, Vol. CXXXIV (April, 1882), pp. 382-3. 

1 William M. Dickson: "The New Political Machine/* North American Review, 
VoL CXXXIV (January i, 188*), p. 4*. 

185 The Fate of the Reformer 

Lincoln; the favored few thus admitted remaining for life; exempt, 
likewise, from vicissitudes; advancing, likewise, in a regular grada 
tion, higher and higher; a class separate from the rest of the 
community, and bound together by a common interest and a com 
mon subordination to one man, he also the commander-in-chief 
of the Army the President of the United States. 

In vain did reformers protest that there -was nothing undemocratic 
about tests open equally to all applicants, especially since the Ameri 
can educational system itself was so democratic, even at the upper 
levels. 2 In vain did they reprint the texts of examinations which al 
ready existed in order to show that potential clerks were not expected 
to be members of the American Philosophical Society or graduates of 
the Ivy League colleges. In vain did they produce statistics showing 
that, for instance, in the New York Customs House, -where the com 
petitive examination system had been used before 1881, only a very 
modest proportion of candidates examined or appointed were college 
graduates. 3 The grim specter of the educated civil servant haunted the 
professionals to the very end. Even after President Garfield s assassi 
nation, when public sentiment for civil-service reform rapidly 
mounted, his successor, Chester A. Arthur, professed to Congress his 
anxiety that civil-service examinations would exalt "mere intellectual 
proficiency" above other qualities and that experienced men would be 
at a disadvantage in competing with immature college youths. 4 Sena 
tor George H. Pendleton, steering the civil-service reform bill through 
Congress, found it necessary to reassure the Senate that the system 
of examinations did not present only "a scholastic test" unfairly favor 
ing the college-bred. 5 Had it not been for the fortuitous shooting of 
Garfield, it is likely that the reforms embodied in the Pendleton Act 
would have been delayed for almost a generation. 

In the attacks made by the reformers on the professional politicians, 
one finds a few essential words recurring: ignorant, vulgar , selfish, 

2 Andrew D. White: "Do the Spoils Belong to the Victor?" North American 
Review, Vol. CXXXIV (February, 1882), p. 129-30. 

3 Godkin: "The Civil Service Reform Controversy/* p. 393. 

4 J. R. Richardson: Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Vol. X, pp. 46, 


5 Congressional Record, 47th Congress, and session, pp. 207-8 (December 12, 


corrupt. To counter such language, the politicians had to have an 
adequate and appealing answer. It was not merely the conduct of the 
public debate which was at stake but also their need to salve their 
own genuine feelings of outrage. Where rapport with the public was 
concerned, the politicians., of course, had a signal advantage. But if 
the debate itself were to be accepted in the terms set by the reformers, 
the politicians would suffer considerably, Like all men living at the 
fringes of politics, and thus freed of the burdens of decision and re 
sponsibility, the reformers found it much easier than the professionals 
to keep their boasted purity. Most of the reform leaders were men 
from established families., with at least moderate wealth and secure 
independent vocations of their own, and not directly dependent 
upon politics for their livelihood; it was easier for them than for the 
professionals to maintain the atmosphere of disinterestedness that they 
felt vital to the public service. Besides, they were in fact better 
educated and more cultivated men. 

The politicians and bosses found their answer in crying down the 
superior education and culture of their critics as political liabilities, 
and in questioning their adequacy for the difficult and dirty work of 
day-to-day politics. As the politicians put it, they, the bosses and 
party workers, had to function in the bitter world of reality in which 
the common people also had to live and earn their living. This was 
not the sphere of morals and ideals, of education and culture: it was 
the hard, masculine sphere of business and politics. The reformers, 
they said, claimed to be unselfish; but if this was true at all, it was 
true only because they were alien commentators upon an area of 
life in which they did not have to work and for which in fact they were 
unfit. In the hard-driving, competitive, ruthless, materialistic world of 
the Gilded Age, to be unselfish suggested not purity but a lack of self, 
a lack of capacity for grappling with reality, a lack o assertion, of 

Invoking a well-established preconception of the American male, 
the politicians argued that culture is impractical and men of culture 
are ineffectual, that culture is feminine and cultivated men tend to 
be effeminate. Secretly hungry for office and power themselves, and 
yet lacking in the requisite understanding of practical necessities, the 
reformers took out their resentment upon those who had succeeded. 
They were no better than carping and hypocritical censors of office 
holders and power-wielders. They were, as James G. Elaine once put 
it, "conceited, foolish, vain, without knowledge ... of men. . . . 

187 The Fate of the Reformer 

They are noisy but not numerous, pharisaical but not practical, ambi 
tious but not wise, pretentious but not powerful." 6 

The clash between reformers and politicians created in the minds 
of the professionals a stereotype of the educated man in politics that 
has never died. It is charmingly illustrated in the sayings, recorded 
(and perhaps dressed up) by a reporter around the turn of the cen 
tury, of a candid practitioner of metropolitan politics, George Wash 
ington Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. If Tammany leaders were "all book 
worms and college professors/ Plunkitt declared, 7 

Tammany might win an election once in four thousand years. 
Most of the leaders are plain American citizens, of the people and 
near to the people, and they have all the education they need to 
whip the dudes who part their name in the middle. ... As for 
the common people of the district, I am at home with them at all 
times. When I go among them, I don t try to show off my gram 
mar, or talk about the Constitution, or how many volts there is in 
electricity or make it appear in any way that I am better educated 
than they are. They wouldn t stand for that sort of thing. 

Again: 8 

Some young men think they can learn how to be successful in 
politics from books, and they cram their heads with all sorts of 
college rot. They couldn t make a bigger mistake. Now, under 
stand me, I ain t sayin nothin against colleges. I guess they have 
to exist as long as there s bookworms, and I suppose they do some 
good in certain ways, but they don t count in politics. In fact, a 
young man who has gone through the college course is handi- 

6 Gail Hamilton: Biography of James G. Blaine (Norwich, 1895), p. 491. For 
a testy attack on literary men and reformers in politics, and their patronizing at 
titude toward professionals, see Senator Joseph R. Hawley: Congressional Record, 
47th Congress, 2nd session, p. 2,42, ( December 13, 1882 ) . 

7 William L. Riordon: PLunkitt of Tammany Hall (1905; ed. New York, 1948), 
pp. 601. One is reminded here of the techniques of the delightful Brooklyn Demo 
cratic leader Peter McGuiness. Challenged for the leadership of his district during 
the early 1920*5 by a college graduate who maintained that the community should 
have a man of culture and refinement as its leader, McGuiness dealt with the new 
comer "with a line that is a favorite of connoisseurs of political strategy. At the 
next meeting McGuiness addressed, he stood silent for a moment, glaring down at 
the crowd of shirtsleeved laborers and housewives in Hoover aprons until he had 
their attention. Then he bellowed, *A11 of yez that went to Yales or Cornells raise 
your right hands. . . . The Yales and Cornells can vote for him. The rest of yez 
vote for me/ " Richard Rovere: "The Big Hello/ in The American Establishment 
(New York, 1962), p. 36. 

8 Ibid., p. 10. 


capped at the outset. He may succeed in politics, but the chances 
are 100 to 1 against him. 

It was not enough for the politicians to say that the reformers were 
hypocritical and impractical. Their cultivation and fastidious manners 
were taken as evidence that these "namby-pamby, goody-goody gentle 
men" who "sip cold tea" 9 were deficient in masculinity. They were on 
occasion denounced as "political hermaphrodites" (an easy transition 
from their uncertain location as to political party to an uncertain loca 
tion as to sex). The waspish Senator Ingalls of Kansas, furious at their 
lack of party loyalty, once denounced them as "the third sex" "effem 
inate without being either masculine or feminine; unable either to 
beget or bear; possessing neither fecundity nor virility; endowed with 
the contempt of men and the derision of women, and doomed to 
sterility, isolation, and extinction." x 

From the moment the reformers appeared as an organized force in 
the Liberal Republican movement of 1872, they were denounced by 
Roscoe Conkling, one of the most flamboyant of the spoilsmen, as a 
"convention of idealists and professors and sore-heads." 2 Conkling also 
produced one of the classics of American invective, and spelled out 
the implications of the charge of deficient masculinity. Conkling s vic 
tim was George William Curtis, once a student at the German univer 
sities, editor of Harper s and a prominent reformer, the friend of such 
men as Bryant, Lowell, and Stunner, and one of the most prominent 
advocates of a more aggressive role in politics for educated men* The 
occasion was the New York State Republican Convention of 1877, 
at which a battle between bosses and reformers over the party organi 
zation came to a head. When Conkling s moment came, he asked: 
"Who are these men who, in newspapers and elsewhere, are cracking 
their whips over Republicans and playing school-master to the Re 
publican party and its conscience and convictions?" "Some of them are 
the man-milliners, the dilettanti and carpet knights of politics," he 

9 A letter to The New York Times, June 17, 1880, quoted by R. R. Bowker: 
Nation, Vol. XXXI (July i, 1880 ), p. 10. 

1 Congressional Record, 49th. Congress, ist session, p. 2786 (March. 2,6, 1886). 
"They have two recognized functions," the senator said of the third sex. "They sing 
falsetto, and they are usually selected as the guardians of the seraglios of Oriental 

2 Matthew Josephson: ThePoliticos (New York, 1938), p. 163. Conkling s words 
are reminiscent of those of the businessman who objected to economic reformers as 
"philanthropists, professors, and Lady Millionaires/* Edward C. Kirkland: Dream 
and Thought in the Business Community (Ithaca, 1956 ), p. 2,6. 

189 The Fate of the Reformer 

went on and the term man-milliners, a reference to the fashion 
articles that Curtis s magazine had recently started to publish, evoked 
howls of derisive laughter. After denouncing the reformers for parad 
ing "their own thin veneering of superior purity/ and ridiculing 
their alleged treachery and hypocrisy, their ^rancid, canting self- 
righteousness/ he closed with the remark: They forget that parties 
are not built by deportment, or by ladies magazines, or by gush. . . /* 3 

What Plunkitt later suggested when he referred to "dudes that part 
their name in the middle" Conkling here made as clear as it was ad 
missible to do. The cultivated character and precise manners of the 
reformers suggested that they were effeminate. Culture suggested 
feminity; and the editorship of a ladies* magazine proved it in Curtis s 
case. The more recent attacks by Senator McCarthy and others upon 
the Eastern and English-oriented prep-school personnel of the State 
Department, associated with charges of homosexuality, are not an 
altogether novel element in the history of American invective. That 
the term "man-milliners" was understood in this light by many con 
temporaries is suggested by the fact that though the New York 
Tribune reported Conlding s speech in full, with the offending word, 
Conkling s nephew dropped "man-milliners" from his account of this 
incident in the biography of his uncle and substituted asterisks as 
though he were omitting an unmistakable obscenity. 4 

What the politicians relied upon, as the basis for an unspoken agree 
ment about the improper character of the reformers, was the feeling, 
then accepted by practically all men and by most women, that to be 
active in political life was a male prerogative, in the sense that women 
were excluded from it, and further, that capacity for an effective 
role in politics was practically a test of masculinity. To be active in 
politics was a man s business, whereas to be engaged in reform move 
ments (at least in America) meant constant association with aggres 
sive, reforming, moralizing women witness the case of the abolition 
ists. The common male idea, so often heard in the debate over woman 
suffrage, was that women would soil and unsex themselves if they 

3 Alfred R. ConHing: Life and Letters of Roscoe Conkling (New York, 1889), 
pp. 5401; for the full account of the incident, see pp. 53849- 

4 See also the attack on Curtis in the Elmira Advertiser, October 6, 1877, as 
reported in Thomas Collier Platt s Autobiography (New York, 1910), pp. 93-5; 
Here "a smart boy named Curtis, who parted his hair in the middle like a girl" 
and lived in an exclusively feminine environment, ran afoul of a masculine redhead 
named ConHing, who beat him up, to the indignation of Curtis s maiden aunts and 
all the female neighbors. 


entered the inevitably dirty male world of political activity, about 
which Senator Ingalls once said that its purification was "an iridescent 

If women invaded politics, they would become masculine, just as 
men became feminine when they espoused reform. Horace Bush- 
nell suggested that if women got the vote and kept it for hundreds of 
years, "the very look and temperament of women will be altered." 
The appearance of women would be sharp, their bodies wiry, their 
voices shrill, their actions angular and abrupt, and full of self-assertion, 
will, boldness, and eagerness for place and power. It could also be 
expected that in this nightmare of female assertion women would 
actually "change type physiologically, they will become taller and 
more brawny, and get bigger hands and feet, and a heavier weight of 
brain," and would very likely become "thinner, sharp-featured, lank 
and dry, just as all disappointed, over-instigated natures always are." 5 

In compensation for their political disability, women were always 
conceded to embody a far greater moral purity than men ( though this 
purity was held to be of a frailer variety); G and it was conventionally 
said that they would make it effective in the world through their role 
as wives and mothers. So long as they stayed out of politics, the realm 
of ideals and of purity belonged to them. By the same token, the 
realm of reality and of dirty dealings, in so far as it must exist, be 
longed to men; and the reformers who felt that they were bringing 
purer and more disinterested personal ideals into politics were ac 
cused by their opponents of trying to womanize politics, and to mix 
the spheres of the sexes. Just as women unsexed themselves by entering 
politics, so reformers unsexed themselves by introducing female 
standards i.e., morality into political life. The old byword for re 
formers long-haired men and short-haired women" aptly expressed 
this popular feeling. 

The notion that the demand for women s suffrage was perversely 
unsexing, even dehumanizing, was one of the central themes of Henry 

5 Horace Bushnell: Women s Suffrage: the Reform against Nature (New York, 
1869), pp. 135-6. Cf. p. 56: "The claim of a beard would not be a more radical 
revolt against nature/* 

6 Cf. Bushnell: "We also know that women often show a strange facility of de 
basement and moral abandonment, when they have once given way consentingly. 
Men go down by a descent facilis descencus women by a precipitation. Perhaps 
the reason is, in part, that more is expected of women and that again because there 
is more expectancy of truth and sacrifice in the semi-christly, subject state of 
women than is likely to be looked for in the forward, self-asserting headship of 
men." Ibid., p .142. 

igi The Fate of the Reformer 

James s The Bostonians. Like Bushnell, James feared that the male 
world would be undone by the perverse aggressiveness o women 
and of feminine principles. His Southern hero, Basil Ransom, bursts 
out: 7 

The whole generation is womanized; the masculine tone is pass 
ing out of the world; it s a feminine, a nervous, hysterical, chatter 
ing, canting age, an age of hollow phrases and false delicacy and 
exaggerated solicitudes and coddled sensibilities, which, if we 
don t soon look out, will usher in the reign of mediocrity, of the 
feeblest and flattest and the most pretentious that has ever been. 
The masculine character, the ability to dare and endure, to know 
and yet not fear reality, to look the world in the face and take it 
for what it is a very queer and partly very base mixture that is 
what I want to preserve, or rather, as I may say, recover. . . . 

The world that James had in mind as having already been deprived of 
its masculine character was not, surely, the world of Jim Fisk, Car 
negie, Rockefeller, or the railroad barons, nor the world of the Tweed 
Ring or Roscoe Conkling; rather it was the world of the cultivated 
man, whose learning had once been linked with masculine firmness 
to the life of action and assertion, the Eastern society, epitomized by 
Boston, which in all America James knew best. There seemed to be 
an almost painful need in this society for die kind of man who could 
join the sphere of ideas and moral scruples with the virile qualities 
of action and assertion. 

* 4 * 

Whether or not the reformers fully realized it, the stigma of effeminacy 
and ineffectuality became a handicap to them, a token of their in 
sulation from the main currents of American politics. One of the first 
to meet this challenge was Theodore Roosevelt. A recruit from the 
same social and educational strata as the reform leaders, he decided 
at an early age that the deficiencies charged against them were real, 
and that if reform was to get anywhere, their type must be replaced 
by a new and more vigorous kind of leader from the same class. 
In his Autobiography, he recalled that the reformers were 8 

gentlemen who were very nice, very refined, who shook their 
heads over political corruption and discussed it in drawing-rooms 

7 The Bostonians ( 1886; ed. London, 1952), p. 289. 

8 An Autobiography ( New York, 1920 ) , pp. 86-7. 


and parlors, but who were wholly unable to grapple with real men 
in real life. They were apt vociferously to demand "reform** as if 
it were some concrete substance, like cake, which could be handed 
out at will, in tangible masses, if only the demand were urgent 
enough. These parlor reformers made up for inefficiency in action 
by zeal in criticizing. . . . 

When T. R. wrote this, he had long since been separated from re 
formers of Godkin s stripe by an intense and almost obsessive hatred, 
occasioned on his side by an irritating sense that they thought of him 
as a moral traitor, and on their side by an incomprehension that a 
man of his background could have made his moral compromises. But 
it was one of the major sources of his popularity in the country at 
large, toward the end of the century, that he could be portrayed as an 
Easterner, a writer, and a Harvard man from the well-to-do classes 
who nevertheless knew how to get along with cowboys and Rough 

In spite of the disapproval of his family and friends, Roosevelt 
entered politics at the bottom in 1880 by joining the Jake Hess 
Republican Club near his home in New York City. He persisted in 
playing the political game despite his early distaste for the environ 
ment and the rebuffs of the ward heelers. The next year he had Avon 
enough support within the Republican machine to be sent to the 
legislature at Albany. When Roosevelt first entered the New York 
Assembly at twenty-three, he still suffered from the stigma of his 
fashionable background. As Henry F. Pringle has written: "In addi 
tion to his origin among New Yorkers of moderate wealth, he was a 
Harvard man. He wore eyeglasses on the end of a black silk cord, 
which was effeminate. In brief, he was a dude; that comic-supplement 
creation born of American inferiority toward Great Britain. Even 
Isaac L. Hunt, who was also a new member and who fought at Roose 
velt s side in many a battle, was to recall him as *a joke ... a dude 
the way he combed his hair, the way he talked the whole thing.* " 
Handicapped, as Pringle observes, by his manners, his grammatical 
English, and his feeling for clothes, and cursed with a comically high- 
pitched voice, which he used, as a contemporary said, to address the 
chairman "in the vernacular of the first families of New York," Roose 
velt began his career inauspiciously. 9 His opponents were quick to 

9 Henry F. Pringle: Theodore Roosevelt ( New York, 1931 ), pp. 657. 

193 The Fate of the Reformer 

brand him as a college-bred sissy. Learning that four members of 
the national collegiate fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi, were on the 
Assembly Elections Committee, the New York World wrote: "Dear! 
Dear! Brother Roosevelt [is] a trader of positions on an Assembly 
Committee. Let the Alpha Delta veil the Mother symbol in crepe." 
"The horny-handed voters of the State will learn with surprise and 
disgust that some horny-headed legislators and lawyers are intro 
ducing "college politics* into contested elections to the Legislature. 
The Alpha Delta Phi fraternity no doubt affords an innocent and 
agreeable recreation for undergraduates, but it is not exactly a safe 
guide for maturer statesmanship/ 7 x 

In a short time, however, the strong personal image of himself that 
Roosevelt managed to create began to take hold in the newspapers. 
His vigor and sincerity began to win a hearty response, and he got 
favorable notices in spite of his education and background. An upstate 
editor found it ^cheering to see an occasional young man of wealth and 
education -who cares for something more than to be a butterfly of 
society who is willing to bring ^ie gifts of fortune to the public 
service." A Boston paper thought that even though he had "aesthetic 
leanings," he had delivered a "sagacious and level-headed Republican 
speech/* Another decided that although he was "weighed down . . . 
with a good deal of theoiy taken aboard in the leading universities of 
the Old World and the New/ he was none the less "really a very bright 
young man, with some practical ideas/ The Springfield Republican 
was trpubled about intellectual training that would hinder young men*s 
understanding of the problems of the average citizen, but it conceded 
that Roosevelt s was "a culture that does not separate him from the 
cause of the people/ By the time Roosevelt became a Civil Service 
Commissioner, an editor was able to say: "Reform with him will never 
become either a literary recreation or a hypocritical subterfuge to 
cover submission to party." 

Roosevelt s familiarity with the West and his ranching experiences 
were a great help in establishing his virility. He was described as a 
"manly, athletic, vigorous person . . . fond of hunting big game in 

1 This and subsequent press comments on Roosevelt are taken from a mass of 
such quotations in two master s essays written at Columbia University in 1947 and 
based upon an examination of Roosevelt s scrapbooks Anne de la Vergne: The 
Public Reputation of Theodore Roosevelt, 1881-2897, pp. 9-16, 456; and 
Richard D. HeSher: The Public Reputation of Theodore Roosevelt: The New 
Nationalism, 1890-1901, pp. 21-4, 41-5, 53-4. 


the Far West [where] he is the owner of great ranches," and as 
"schooled in the art of self -protection during his early days of roughing 
it in the West." Heroic tales were retold of his experiences with 
Indians. His skill in hunting became a political asset: "He is capable 
of showing the same spirit of true sport in following the trail of the 
spoilsman, as in his pursuit of the grizzly-bear of the Rocky Mountains, 
and when he opens fire on civic corruption it is a good deal like the 
action of a magazine-rifle at close range." Roosevelt was the only 
reformer whose life could have suggested that civil-service reform was 
analogous to hunting dangerous game. 

Against the urban, commercial, cynical, effeminate world, Roosevelt 
represented the West and the outdoors, the vigorous, energetic, manly 
style of life, and a "sincere" and idealistic outlook. T. R. himself was 
aware of his achievement in dramatizing the compatibility of educa 
tion and reform with energy and virility, and he took it upon himself 
to bring this message to the rising generation. When he was invited to 
speak to Harvard undergraduates in 1894, he chose the subject, "The 
Merit System and Manliness in Politics," and urged his listeners that 
they be not only "good men but also manly men, that they should not 
let those who stand for evil have all the virile qualities." During the 
1890*5 he was especially vociferous in exhorting American men to 
commit themselves to an active, hardy, practical, and yet idealistic 
engagement in political struggles. "The strenuous life," of which he 
often spoke, was not simply a matter of nationalism and imperial 
assertion but of domestic reform politics. The good American, he 
repeated, would not merely criticize; he would act. He would throw 
himself into "the rough hurly-burly of the caucus" and bear his part as a 
man should, not shrinking from association with "men who are some 
times rough and coarse, who sometimes have lower ideals than they 
should, but who are capable, masterful, and efficient/* He should 
develop "the rougher, manlier virtues, and above all the virtue of 
personal courage, physical as well as moral," and must be "vigorous 
in mind and body," possessing the "hardy virtues" which are admired 
in the soldier, "the virile fighting qualities without which no nation 
. . . can ever amount to anything." It would be "unmanliness and 
cowardice to shrink from the contest because at first there is failure, 
or because the work is difficult or repulsive." The educated and culti 
vated class had a special obligation not to show "weak good-nature," 
not to "cease doing their share of the rough, hard work which must 
be done** or sink into the kind of "dilettanteism" which resembles the 

195 The Fate of the Reformer 

position not of the true artist but of the "cultivated, ineffective man 
with a taste for bric-a-brac." 2 

In the midst of the anxieties aggravated by the severe economic 
depression of the nineties, this attitude was widely welcomed. "The 
ardor and strength of prime manhood/ wrote a California paper, "is 
a much needed quality in American government, especially at this 
time, when all things political and all things social are in the transition 

Roosevelt s preaching of militant nationalism and the strenuous life 
helped to round out the picture of his aggressiveness. Here -was an 
intellectual-in-politics who had the Jacksonian qualities of militancy 
and decision, who could never be charged with cowardice, like Jeffer 
son, or academicism like John Quincy Adams, or with the eunuchoid 
indecisiveness of a Curtis. He was unmistakably a "fighter." "He loves 
fighting, but all his fighting is for good government. Roosevelt is ag 
gressiveness itself." In 1896, when American imperialism was being 
criticized by academics like Theodore Woolsey and Hermann von 
Hoist, the Cleveland World found in Roosevelt a perfect antidote to 
timid scholarship. T. R/s influence was like a "patriotic breeze. . . . 
Across the alkali plains of non-patriotism where the Woolseys . . . 
the von Hoists and other professors have been evaporating, comes 
this fresh welcome breath from a man as -well equipped in scholar 
ship as they." If there was anything missing from the picture of virile 
patriotism and pugnacity, it was supplied by Roosevelt s active and 
well-publicized services with the Rough Riders in the Spanish War, 
which made him, beyond question, the national hero. "His popularity 
comes from certain virile characteristics which most men like," asserted 
Harpers Weekly in 1899. "They are fond of the picture of the man 
on horseback whether he is riding after Spaniards or grizzlies or 
steers, whether he is a soldier, hunter or ranchman." Describing an 
ovation given Roosevelt in 1900, the Detroit News said: "It was for 
the man who banded together a strangely contrasted crew college 
men and cowboys and swept with them across the page of current 
history, that men cheered themselves hoarse and women paid dainty 
tribute." "It is not to be expected," said the Chicago Journal the follow 
ing year, "that anemic, town-bred, stage-door-haunting, dissipated 

2 Harvard Crimson, November 10, 1894; see especially "The Manly Virtues and 
Practical Politics" (1894) and "The College Graduate and Public Life" (1894), 
from which these quotations were taken, in American Ideals (New York, 1897), 
pp. 51-77- 


youths can sympathize with a real man of Theodore Roosevelt s sort. 
But . . . live, vigorous Americans, with red blood coursing through 
their veins know how to appreciate him." 

A citified, commercial civilization, bedeviled by serious depression 
and troubled for the first time by the fear of decadence, greeted 
Roosevelt as the harbinger of a new and more vigorous and masculine 
generation. Roosevelt paved the way for Progressivism by helping to 
restore prestige to educated patricians who were interested in reform, 
by reinvesting their type with the male virtues. American men, im 
pelled to feel tough and hard, could respond to this kind of idealism 
and reform without fearing that they had unmanned themselves. In 
Roosevelt one finds the archetype of what has become a common 
American political image: the aspiring politician, suspected of having 
too gentle an upbringing, too much idealism, or too many intellectual 
interests, can pass muster if he can point to a record of active military 
service; if that is lacking, having made the football team may do. 

But Roosevelt had accomplished more than the negative service of 
dispelling the image of the gentleman scholar as effeminate and in 
effectual in politics. He had begun to show that this type of man had 
a useful part to play. In the generation he and his contemporaries were 
replacing, men of intellect had laid claim to leadership too much on 
the ground that their social standing and their mental and moral quali 
ties entitled them to it. T. R. and his generation were more disposed 
to rest their claim on the ground that they performed a distinct and 
necessary function in the national scheme of things. For them, the 
role of the scholar in politics was founded upon his possession of 
certain serviceable skills that were becoming increasingly important 
to the positive functions of government. The era of the frustrated 
gentleman-reformer in politics was coming to a close. With the emer 
gence of the Progressive generation, the era of the scholar as expert 
was about to begin. 

[ 197 ] 

The Rise of the Expert 

THE Progressive era the estrangement between intellectuals 
and power which had been so frustrating to the reformers of the 
Gilded Age came rather abruptly to an end. America entered a new 
phase of economic and social development; the old concern with 
developing industry, occupying the continent, and making money was 
at last matched by a new concern with humanizing and controlling the 
large aggregates of power built up in the preceding decades. The 
country seems to have been affected by a sort of spiritual hunger, a 
yearning to apply to social problems the principles of Christian mo 
rality which had always characterized its creed but too rarely its be 
havior. It felt a greater need for self-criticism and self-analysis. The 
principles of good government that the gentlemen reformers had 
called for in vain seemed to be closer to realization. 

But these principles, too, had begun to change: the civil-service 
reformers had had a constricted idea of what good government would 
actually do, and one reason for their small following had been their 
inability to say very appealingly what good government was good for. 
Now, in increasing numbers, intelligent Americans began to think 
they knew. To control and humanize and moralize the great powers 
that had accumulated in the hands of industrialists and political 
bosses, it would be necessary to purify politics and build up the 
administrative state to the point at which it could subject the Ameri 
can economy to a measure of control. Of necessity, the functions of 
government would become more complex; and as they did so, experts 
would be in greater demand. In the interests of democracy itself, 
the old Jacksonian suspicion of experts must be abated. The tension 


between democracy and the educated man now seemed to be dis 
appearing because the type of man wlio had always valued expertise 
was now learning to value democracy and because democracy was 
learning to value experts. 

The new social order also required exploration and explanation: 
there was an all but universal awareness that America was standing at 
the threshold o a new era. The imperative business of national self- 
criticism stirred ideas into life. Partly as expert, partly as social critic, 
the intellectual now came back to a central position such as he had 
not held in American politics for a century. But the recognition of 
intellect in national affairs was not accorded on the terms anticipated 
by the gentlemen reformers of the previous decades. In their eyes, the 
claims of mind had been founded largely on social class and gentility: 
they had lamented the disuse of intellect partly because they felt it 
was entitled to greater deference; but their notion of how it ought to 
be used was altogether conservative. Now, however, the claims of 
intellect were not based on the social position of the men who exem 
plified it, but on their usefulness in mobilizing and directing the rest 
less, critical, reforming energies of the country. Intellect was rein 
stalled not because of its supposed conservative influence but because 
of its service to change. In this respect, the changes of the Progressive 
era in social criticism and administrative organization did not look 
back to the conservative civil service envisaged in the days of Hayes 
and Garfield but forward to the New Deal welfare state and Frank 
lin D. Roosevelt s brain trust. 

Doubtless, the Progressives were more effective in creating a new 
moral atmosphere than in realizing a new administrative regime. It 
was the moral and intellectual requirements of the period which put 
its intellectuals in unprecedented rapport not only with the American 
public but with the country s political leaders. Some men of intellect 
were drawn toward politics from the outside: but others emerged 
directly within the political order, and found there a more secure and 
honored place than their predecessors. Political life offered prominent 
roles to men who were interested in ideas and scholarship men like 
Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Henry Cabot Lodge, Albert J. 
Beveridge, Robert M. La Follette. Among the outstanding political 
leaders of the Progressive movement, Bryan alone kept alive the anti- 
intellectualist strain in popular democracy. 1 La Follette enjoys a special 

1 For a revealing contemporary encounter, see the interview with Bryan re 
ported by John Reed in Cottier s, Vol. LVII ( May 2,0, 1916 ) , pp. 11 ff. 

199 The Rise of the Expert 

place; though less a scholar or an intellectual than some of his con 
temporaries, he must be credited with the origins of the brain-trust 
idea, both because of the effective union he achieved, as governor 
of Wisconsin, between the University of Wisconsin and die state 
government, and because of the efficient, research-minded staff he 
brought with him to Washington during his senatorial days. From the 
very beginning of his political career, La Follette gave the lie to 
George Washington Plunkitt s assertion that a college background was 
of no use in practical politics, when he rallied his former classmates 
for his first campaigns and made them the nucleus of a well-knit 
political machine. If Roosevelt had shown that intellect was com 
patible with virility, La Follette showed that intellect could be politi 
cally effective. 

Progressivism moved from local and state levels to national politics. 
It was in the state governments that the new agencies of regulation 
first went into operation and that a substantial place for experts in 
legislation was first created. The trial ground for the role of experts 
in political life was not Washington but the state capitals, particularly 
Madison, Wisconsin, which offered the first example of experts in the 
service of "the people" and the state. In its successes and failures, 
in the very antagonisms it aroused, the La Follette experiment in 
Wisconsin was a bellwether for national Progressive politics and a 
historical prototype for the New Deal brain trust. The Wisconsin 
experience is particularly instructive because it prefigured an entire 
cycle in the role of experts and intellectuals in politics which has by 
now become familiar: first, there was an era of change and discontent 
which brought a demand for such men; next, the intellectuals and 
experts became identified with the reforms they formulated and 
helped to administer; then, an increasing distaste for reforms arose, 
often in direct response to their effectiveness. This distaste was felt 
above all by business interests, which arraigned governmental med 
dling, complained of the costs of reform, and attempted to arouse the 
public against reformers with a variety of appeals, among them anti- 
intellectualism. Finally, the reformers were ousted, but not all their 
reforms were undone. 

The first impetus toward what came to be known as "the Wisconsin 
idea" occurred in 1892, when the new School of Economics, Political 


Science, and History was set up at the University of Wisconsin, under 
the direction o the young economist, Richard T. Ely. Frederick 
Jackson Turner and President Thomas C. Chamberlain, the leaders o 
this movement, hoped to make Wisconsin a pioneer among Mid 
western states in promoting social science, which they felt had im 
mense potentialities for providing practical guidance to the complex 
industrial world that had come into being within the past quarter 
century. As they planned it, the university would become a center of 
training in administration and citizenship, and would evolve into an 
efficient practical servant of the state. 

The role of the university, it must be emphasized, was to be wholly 
nonpartisan; it would be impartial between the political parties, and, in 
a larger sense, it -was expected to serve "the people" as a whole, not a 
particular class interest. It would not offer propaganda or ideologies, 
but information, statistics, advice, skill, and training. By the same 
token, it was hoped that the prestige of the university would grow with 
its usefulness. University leaders did not anticipate any profound 
challenge to vested interests. In an early letter Turner asked that Ely 
"briefly indicate to me the practical ways in which such a school, in 
your opinion, can be made serviceable to the people of Wisconsin. . . . 
The very novelty of these practical aspects of the School is what will 
win us support from these hard headed Wisconsin capitalists if any 
thing will/* 2 Turner later expressed this notion of impartial science 
more clearly: 

By training in science, in law, politics, economics, and history 
the universities may supply from the ranks of democracy adminis 
trators, legislators, judges and experts for commissioners who shall 
disinterestedly and intelligently mediate between contending in 
terests. When the word "capitalistic classes * and "the proletariate" 
can be used and understood in America, it is surely time to de 
velop such men, with the ideal of service to the State, who may 
help to break the force of these collisions., to find common grounds 
between the contestants and to possess the respect and confi 
dence of all parties which are genuinely loyal to the best American 
ideals. The signs of such a development are already plain in the 
expert commissions of some States; in the increasing proportion of 
university men in legislatures; in the university men s influence in 

2 Merle Curti and Vernon Carstensen: The University of Wisconsin (Madison, 
1949 )> Vol. I, p. 632. This work has a full-bodied account of the role of the 
university in the "Wisconsin idea/ 

The Rise of the Expert 

federal departments and commissions. It is hardly too much to say 
that the best hope of intelligent and principled progress in eco 
nomic and social legislation and administration lies in the increas 
ing influence of American universities. 

Turner went on to say that he could see the danger to the universities 
in all this. "Pioneer democracy" had always had scant respect for the 
expert, and the expert would have to go on contending against the 
"inherited suspicion" of his land; but he could overcome it with "crea 
tive imagination and personality." 3 

By the end of the century, the university had gathered some distin 
guished scholars, who were concentrating on social and economic 
problems, notably on those of the state and the municipality; it had 
produced a number of excellent monographs. With its extension system 
it was helping to educate the people of the state. Through its farmers 
institutes it had drawn close to the agricultural interests and had done 
much to raise the technical level of agriculture in Wisconsin. Its 
program became truly controversial, however, after the election of 
Robert M. La Follette as governor in 1900. A graduate of the univer 
sity, fully in sympathy with the aspirations of its idealistic leaders, La 
Follette was quick to make use of its experts, who were called upon 
for advice in his program of tax reform, railroad control, and direct 
primary legislation. 

The efforts of the university were soon supplemented by those of 
another independent agency, the Legislative Reference Service, or 
ganized under another recent Wisconsin graduate student, the ener 
getic Charles McCarthy. McCarthy s aspirations for the reference li 
brary were like those of Turner for the university: it was to be an 
impartial service organization. In the age of the railroad, the telephone, 
the telegraph, and the insurance company, the problems of the state, 
he remarked, were growing so various and complex that vast amounts 
of information were necessary for legislators to deal with them intel 
ligently. "The only sensible thing to do is to have experts gather this 
material/ It was not a question of commitment to one side or another 
of a legislative debate: 4 

As to our department in Wisconsin, we are not trying to influ 
ence our legislators in any way, we are not upon one side or an- 

3 F. J. Turner: "Pioneer Ideals and the State University/" a commencement 
address delivered at the University of Indiana in 1910 and reprinted in The 
Frontier in American History (New York, 1920), pp. 285-6; italics are mine. 

* Charles McCarthy: The Wisconsin Idea (New York, 1912), pp. 


other of any question nor are we for or against anybody or any 
thing; we are merely a business branch of the government. We are 
not dictating legislation but are merely servants of the able and 
honest legislators of our state, clerks to gather and index and put 
together the information that these busy men desire; it is a busi 
ness proposition. 

This ideal may now seem as naive as it was sincere. La Follette s 
governorship was on "one side or another" of quite a few questions; 
it challenged the interests of the Taard headed Wisconsin capitalists * 
whose support Turner had hoped to win. Moreover, after 1903, when 
the president of the university was La Follette s friend, Charles P. Van 
Hise, who believed in making the university an integral arm of the 
state, the irritation of conservatives mounted. Matters were not eased 
by the publicity the "Wisconsin idea" got from journalists throughout 
the country (most of them sympathetic) who came to examine Wis 
consin as a model Progressive state in action and went away to write 
in exaggerated terms about "the university that governs a state." 5 

The publicity inspired by the journalists may have caused progres 
sives in other states to consider a closer imitation of the Wisconsin 
model, but within the state it contributed to the conviction of the 
conservatives that the university was part of a conspiracy against them. 
Actually, the university experts did not think of themselves as radicals, 
and did not even consider that they had brought a great deal of initia 
tive into government. An examination of university personnel most 
active in state service shows that it was mainly technicians ( engineers, 
geologists, scientists, and various kinds of agricultural experts ) rather 
than policy advisers who served the state, and that the university of 
fered far more technical information than ideology. John R. Commons, 
one of the most outstanding of the Wisconsin social scientists, con 
sidered the university faculty itself overwhelmingly conservative, and 
recalled: "I was never called in except by Progressives, and only when 
they wanted me. I never initiated anything/ e 

Nevertheless, university men were consulted on taxation and rail 
road regulation, and on other matters, and their influence was resented. 

5 On political tension in the Van Hise era, see Curti and Carstensen: op. cit., 
Vol. II, especially pp. 4, 10-11, 19-21, 26, 40-1, 87-90, 97, 100-7, 55O-2, 587-92. 

6 John R. Commons: Myself (New York, 1934), p. no. Cf. McCarthy: "As a 
general rule the professors wait until asked before venturing to give an opinion 
upon a public question." Op. cit., p. 137; for a list of university personnel in the 
service of the state, see pp. 313-17. 

203 The Rise of the Expert 

La Follette was proud that for the old-fashioned secret back-room 
conferences of bosses which prevailed in the days when Wisconsin 
was run in the interests of private corporations, he had substituted a 
Saturday lunch club at which he sat down with McCarthy and Presi 
dent Van Hise, with Commons, Edward A. Ross, Ely, and other univer 
sity professors to discuss the problems of the state. 7 Business interests 
which suffered from the Progressive policies and indeed many which 
suffered from nothing more than fear of further extension of regulation 
became convinced that the university and the Legislative Reference 
Service must be counted among their enemies, along with the Railroad 
Commission, the Tax Commission, and the Industrial Commission. 

In 1914, when the Wisconsin Progressive Republicans were hurt by 
the nation-wide split in the party, the conservatives saw their op 
portunity. They defeated La Follette s Progressive successor, and re 
turned to power with Emanuel L. Philipp, a railroad and lumber man. 
In his campaign Philipp featured anti-intellectualist denunciations of 
university experts, and called for a reduction in taxes, retrenchment in 
the university, and an end to its political "meddling/ There must be, he 
said, a thorough house-cleaning at the university; socialism was gaining 
ground there, and "many graduates are leaving with ideas that are un- 
American." The employment of experts, he said, would lead to the 
continuing encroachment of the university upon politics. To turn gov 
ernment over to experts was, in any case, a confession that the duly 
elected officials were incompetent. If the state reached the point of 
conceding that all political wisdom was locked up in the university, the 
rest of the people might as well confess "mental bankruptcy." Philipp s 
attack included a demand for the abolition of McCarthy s "bill factory," 
the Legislative Reference Library. 

Once elected, Philipp proved more benign toward these institutions 
than his campaign had promised. Although he did ask the legislature 
for the abolition of McCarthy s library and for university retrenchment 
and consolidation, he became increasingly circumspect as time passed. 
The growth of the university was checked and its influence trimmed, 
but Philipp, confronted with a formidable and highly respectable op 
position among the friends of the university throughout the country, 
made peace with Van Hise. Even McCarthy escaped: the governor dis 
covered that his claim to impartiality had some foundation, when 

7 Autobiography (Madison, Wisconsin, 1913), p. 32; on his use of university 
personnel, see pp. 26, 30-1, 310-11, 348-50. 


draftsmen of conservative bills began to use the Legislative Reference 
Service. 8 

The commitment of the university to Progressivism had never been 
completely accepted within the institution itself. As Commons re 
marked, many of its staff were thoroughly conservative. But more than 
this, many felt that the practical involvement of the university, re 
gardless of its precise political shading, was itself a betrayal of the old- 
fashioned ideals of pure, disinterested intellectualism. J. F. A. Pyre, 
writing about the university in 1920, took issue with Van Hise s view 
that the university should be conceived as "an asset of the state/ This, 
he said, was an excessively materialistic view of its function and down 
graded the tradition of disinterested and autonomous learning, to the 
ultimate cost of the university. 9 But most of the experts at the university 
would doubtless have accepted the pragmatism expressed by Mc 
Carthy in his book, The Wisconsin Idea. The older thinkers, in fields 
like economics, he contended, had been "men of doctrinaire theories 
who had never studied the actual problems of government at first 
hand." They were being replaced by common-sense experts who 
looked at economic questions at first hand and could test their theories 
"by the hard facts of actual events." 1 Hence, while the lay community 
debated whether it should accept or reject experts, the scholarly 
community debated whether the serviceable expert or the man of pure 
learning held the true key to the future of the university. 

Progressive achievement in the arena of power may have been 
limited, but the Progressive atmosphere seemed indefinitely expan 
sive; this was immensely heartening to those who were concerned 
with the place of mind in American society. The horizons of intellect 
grew wider, it -was free and exuberant, and it seemed now to have been 

8 See Robert S. Maxwell: Emanuel L. Philipp: Wisconsin Stalwart (Madison, 
Wisconsin, 1959), chapters 7 and 8, especially pp. 74, 769, 82, 91, 92, 96104. 
The Nation saw a disheartening lesson on American anti-intellectualism in the 
attack on the university. "Between Demos and the professor/* it lamented, "there is 
a gulf of misunderstanding and ignorance unbridged since the days of Aristoph 
anes." "Demos and the Professor/ Vol. C ( May 2,7, 1915 ), p. 596. 

9 J. F. A. Pyre: Wisconsin (New York, 1920), pp. 347-51, 364-5. 

1 The Wisconsin Idea, pp. 1889; cf. p. 138. McCarthy s point of view can best 
be understood against the background of the development of pragmatism and the 
rebellion against the older generation of scholars described in, Morton G. White s 
Social Thought in America: The Revolt against Formalism (New York, 1949). 

20$ The Rise of the "Expert 

put in touch with the higher reaches of power, as well as with the 
national mood. What Mabel Dodge Luhan said, thinking mainly of arts 
and letters, was true of every area of American life: "Barriers went 
down and people reached each other who had never been in touch be 
fore; there were all sorts of new ways to communicate, as well as new 
communications." 2 In this age of the "Little Renaissance" the keynote 
for arts and letters was liberation; for scholarship it was the enlarged 
possibilities for influence. Everywhere there was the intoxicant of new 
interests and new freedom. There was nothing that could not be re- 
examined, from railway franchises and the misdeeds of the trusts to 
sexual life and the conduct of education. Muckrakers were in demand 
to tell the public just how wicked things were, publicists to interpret 
the meaning of events, ministers and editors to point the moral, scholars 
to work out a theoretical rationale for Progressivism in philosophy, law, 
history, and political science, and technicians of all kinds to emerge 
from the academies and make detailed factual studies of social and 
economic problems, even to staff the new regulatory commissions. 

This ferment of ideas, however, brought no social revolution; the 
old masters of America emerged, at the end of the period, almost as 
fully in control as they had been before it began. But in matters of tone 
and style there was a powerful uplift, and tone and style are of first 
importance not only to scholars and men of letters, but to politicians as 
well. No one benefited more than the intellectuals, whether they were 
publicists like Walter Lippmann and Herbert Croly or academic 
scholars like John Dewey and Charles A. Beard. All their work was 
animated by the heartening sense that the gulf between the world of 
theory and the world of practice had been finally bridged. Lippmann 
captured the essence of this feeling in his book, "Drift and Mastery, 
published in 1914, in which he found that the new capacity for con 
trol, for mastery, was the key to the promise of his generation. The most 
abstracted of scholars could derive a sense of importance from belong 
ing to a learned community which the larger world -was compelled to 
consult in its quest for adequate means of social control. It was no 
longer possible to dismiss ideas by calling them "academic," for no one 
any longer saw a clear boundary between the academy and society. 
"A newer type of college professor is ... everywhere in evidence/* 
wrote an observer, 3 

2 Movers and Shakers ( New York, 1936 ) , p. 39. 

3 B.P.: "College Professors and the Public," Atlantic Monthly, Vol. LXXXIX 
( February, 190^), pp. 2845. 


the expert who knows all about railroads and bridges and sub 
ways; about gas commissions and electrical supplies; about cur 
rency and banking, Philippine tariffs, Venezuelan boundary 
lines., the industries of Porto Rico, the classification of the civil 
service, the control of trusts. 

Perhaps most important of all, the skills of such academic experts 
were not only needed but applauded. A few commentators might 
worry about the relationship between the expert and democracy, 4 and 
an occasional businessman, frightened by the costs of regulation, might 
fulminate against the rising influence of theorists, 5 but on the whole the 
new experts had a good press and were widely accepted by the public. 
Brander Matthews thought in 1909 that it was "an evidence of the com 
mon sense of the American people that the prejudice against the Col 
lege Professors, like that against the men of letters, is rapidly dying 
down, and that there is beginning to be public recognition and public 
appreciation of the service they are rendering to the Commonwealth. 
... It is partly due to a growing understanding of the real value of 
the expert and the theorist." 6 

There was a significant acceptance, moreover, among political lead 
ers themselves. It was characteristic of the age that a journalist like 
Isaac Marcosson should bring Theodore Roosevelt the proofs of a book 
by a muckraking novelist like Upton Sinclair, and that his doing so 
would speed the passage of a pure food bill. Quite aside from the pres 
ence in the Senate of men like Beveridge and Lodge who prided them 
selves on their "scholarship," this was the first time since the nation s 
beginnings that presidents of the United States could be described as 

4 See Joseph Lee: "Democracy and the Expert," Atlantic Monthly, Vol. CII 
(November, 1908), pp. 61120. 

5 For example, the Chicago packer, Thomas E. Wilson, who pleaded before a 
Congressional committee in 1906: "What we are opposed to, and what we appeal to 
you for protection against is a bill that will put our business in the hands of 
theorists, chemists, sociologists, etc., and the management and control taken away 
from the men who have devoted their lives to the upbuilding and perfecting of this 
great American industry/* Lest it be imagined that Wilson was fighting against a 
proposal to nationalize the packing industry, it should be explained that he was ap 
pearing against a pure food and drug measure. House Committee on Agriculture, 
59th Congress, ist session, Hearings on the So-Called "Beveridge Amendment," 
(Washington, 1906), p. 5. On the actual role of experts in the fight for food and 
drug control, see Oscar E. Anderson, Jr/s biography of Harvey W. Wiley: The 
Health of a Nation ( Chicago, 1958 ) . 

6 "Literary Men and Public Affairs," North American Review, Vol. CLXXXIX 
(April, 1909), p. 536. 

207 The Rise of the Expert 

A closer look at both T.R. and Wilson will show that each in his own 
way provided a kind of living commentary on the limits of the rela 
tionship between intellect and power. Their presidencies encouraged 
the belief that ideas had a vital part in government; but at the same 
time, neither was entirely in sympathy with his intellectual contempo 
raries, and neither enjoyed their full confidence. T.R., it must be said, 
took a lively and wide-ranging interest in ideas, enjoyed the company 
of men like Croly, Lippmann, and Steffens, found a government job 
for Edwin Arlington Robinson, attracted into public service a vigorous 
and dedicated type of man not much seen in government for -well over 
a generation one thinks of Robert Bacon, Charles Bonaparte, Felix 
Frankfurter, James Garfield, Franklin K. Lane, and Gifford Pinchot 
and called upon academic experts for advice on railroad control, im 
migration, meat inspection, and other issues. In this he did more to 
restore mind and talents to public affairs than any president since 
Lincoln, probably more indeed than any since Jefferson. Lord Bryce, 
commenting on Roosevelt s achievement, thought that he had "never 
in any country seen a more eager, high-minded and efficient set of 
public servants, men more useful and creditable to their country, than 
the men doing the work of the American Government in Washington 
and in the field." 7 It sounds exactly like the kind of regime the gentle 
man reformers of the Gilded Age had called for. 

Yet Roosevelt was rather quick to turn on his intellectual friends for 
what might have been considered marginal differences of opinion, and 
to dress himself as a stuffed-shirt Americanist when confronted with 
heterodox ideas. He misgauged the significance of many a mild protest 
he imagined, for example, that the muckrakers were a dangerous lot 
who were building up "revolutionary feeling." Although no twentieth- 
century president has a greater claim to be considered an intellectual, 
his feeling about the place of intellect in life was as ambivalent as that 
of the educated strata of the middle class which looked up to him. He 
admired intellectual ability, just as he admired business ability, and, if 
anything, his admiration for intellect was firmer. 8 But what he called 

7 Quoted by Paul P. Van Riper: History of United States Civil Service, p. 206; 
cf. pp. 189-207, and John Blum: "The Presidential Leadership of Theodore 
Roosevelt," Michigan Mumntis Quarterly Review, Vol. LXV (December, 1958), 
pp. 1-9. 

8 Cf. a famous letter of 1908: "I am simply unable to make myself take the atti 
tude of respect toward the very wealthy men which such an enormous multitude 
of people evidently really feel. I am delighted to show any courtesy to Pierpont 
Morgan or Andrew Carnegie or James J. Hill; but as for regarding any one of them 
as, for instance, I regard Professor Bury, or Peary, the Arctic explorer, or Admiral 


"character" he unceasingly placed above both. Indeed, he embodied 
the American preference for character over intellect in politics and life, 
and the all but universal tendency to assume that the two somehow 
stand in opposition to each other. His writings continually return to 
this contrast: "Character is far more important than intellect to the 
race as to the individual." "Exactly as strength comes before beauty, so 
character must stand above intellect, above genius." "Oh, how I wish I 
could warn all my countrymen . - , against that most degrading of 
processes, the deification of mere intellectual acuteness, wholly unac 
companied by moral responsibility. . . ? 9 What seems questionable 
about these repeated adjurations against intellect-without-character is 
not that they \vere wrong but that they were pointless unless he actually 
believed that there was a tendency in American life to exalt intellect at 
the expense of morals a curious judgment in the high moral climate of 
the Progressive era. 

Wilson has been said to have brought to the presidency the temper 
of the scholar, with its faults and virtues; and few students of the man 
believe that he had the personal qualities best suited to effective politi 
cal leadership in the United States. The peculiar rigidity of his mind 
and his lack of bonhomie, however, seem to be more the result of his 
Presbyterianism than his scholarly vocation, and probably still more 
constituted distinctively personal qualities. As a scholar and a critical 
intellect, he was a creature of the past. His creative intellectual Me 
had almost come to an end by the close of the iSSo s, the decade in 
which he wrote his brilliant book on Congressional Government and his 
more compendious effort, The State. In his tastes, his ideas, and his 
reading he -was a somewhat parochial Southern version of a Victorian 
gentleman., his mind pleasantly fixed in the era just before the United 
States became a complex modern society. He believed in small busi 
ness, competitive economics, colonialism, Anglo-Saxon and white su 
premacy, and a suffrage restricted to men, long after such beliefs had 
become objects of mordant critical analysis. His first ideas had come 
from Bagehot and Burke, and he had just missed exposure to the re 
markable fin de siecle sunburst of critical thought whose impact car- 
Evans, or Rhodes the historian, or Selous, the big game hunter . . . why, I could 
not force myself to do it even if I wanted to, which I do not." Elting Morison, ed. : 
The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, Vol. VI (Cambridge, 1952), p. 100^. 

9 Works, Memorial Ed., Vol. XIV, p. 128; Outlook (November 8, 1913), p. 527; 
Works, Vol. XVI, p. 484; cf. other statements to the same effect: Outlook (April 23, 
1910), p. 880; Address, October 11, 1897, at the Two Hundredth Anniversary of 
the Old Dutch Reformed Church of Sleepy Hollow (New York, 1898); Works, 
Vol. XVII, p. 3; XII, p. 623. 

The Rise of the Expert 

ried over into the Progressive era. During the iSgo s he was busy as a 
kind of academic man of affairs, bridging the gap between the aca 
demic community and the lay world; and while many of his scholarly 
contemporaries were ripping up the complacent assumptions of the 
Gilded Age, Wilson was speaking to groups of laymen, dishing out the 
kind of fare that bankers and industrialists like to have served by 
university presidents. From the moment he took the presidency of 
Princeton in 1902, he ceased trying to stay in touch with developments 
in the world of ideas. In 1916 he candidly confessed: "I haven t read a 
serious book through for fourteen years." * Understandably, then., his 
style of thought during his active public career -was not much affected 
by the most creative side of American intellectual life, and his mind 
was hardly the object of unstinted admiration by contemporary intel 

It is true that when Wilson was elected in 1912 he was supported by 
many intellectuals who were by then disillusioned by T.R. and who 
responded to the unmistakable note of nobility in Wilson. But Wilson 
was not disposed, before the war, to make the extensive use of intel 
lectual advisers in politics that his academic background seemed to 
promise. Moreover, he had a persistent distrust of what he called 
"experts." Unlike T.R. and La Follette, he did not conceive of experts 
as likely agents or administrators of reform, but rather as hirelings 
available only to big business and special interests. Whereas most 
Progressive thinkers contrasted government by big business with a 
popular government that would employ experts to regulate unac 
ceptable business practices, Wilson thought of big business, vested in 
terests, and experts as a solid combine that could be beaten only by 
returning government to "the people." As against T.R., he contended 
that any experts engaged to regulate big business would be controlled 
by big business. "What I fear," he said during his 1912 campaign, 2 

is a government of experts. God forbid that in a democratic coun 
try we should resign the task and give the government over to ex 
perts. What are we for if we are to be scientifically taken care of 

1 Arthur Link: Wilson: The New Freedom (Princeton, 1956), p. 63; cf. Link s 
discussion of Wilson s mind, pp. 6270. 

2 A Crossroads of Freedom: The 191.2, Campaign Speeches of Woodrow Wilson, 
ed. by John W. Davidson (New Haven, 1956) pp. 83-4. Wilson s ideas about 
experts seem to have been influenced to some extent by the part played by experts 
in the tariff controversy and also by the fight over pure food practices in T.R/s 
administration. Ibid , pp. 113, 1601; see also the comments on experts in The 
New Democracy: Presidential Messages, Addresses, and Other Papers, ed. by 
R. ,S. Baker and W. E. Dodd, Vol. I (New York, 1926), pp. 10, 16. 


by a small number of gentlemen who are the only men wlio tinder- 
stand the job? Because if we don t understand the job, then we 
are not a free people. We ought to resign our free institutions and 
go to school to somebody and find out what it is we are about. I 
want to say I have never heard more penetrating debate of public 
questions than I have sometimes been privileged to hear in clubs 
of workingmen; because the man who is down against the daily 
problem of life doesn t talk about it in rhetoric; he talks about it in 
facts. And the only thing I am interested in is facts. 

The picture of Wilson frequenting workingmen s clubs and disdain - 
ing rhetoric is refreshingly novel. But on the whole Wilson lived up to 
the promise of these remarks when he formulated his domestic policies. 
Inevitably, the role of experts in government grew considerably dur 
ing his administration, 3 as it had for more than a decade. And the 
president did, of course, solicit a great deal of advice on economic 
policy from Louis D. Brandeis, whose ideas about business competi 
tion coincided with his own predilections. But Wilson bowed to the 
animus of Back Bay and the business community in keeping Brandeis 
out of his Cabinet, and in the main he sought advice from different 
types from men like his worshipful secretary, Joe Tumulty, who had a 
good grasp of machine politics and press relations; or his son-in-law, 
William Gibbs McAdoo, an amply progressive but not highly reflective 
mind; and above all, from the subtle and intelligent Colonel House, not 

3 This was notably true of the Department of Agriculture under the Secretary 
ship of David F. Houston, the former chancellor of Washington University and 
president of the University of Texas whom Wilson had appointed upon House s 
suggestion. During Houston s tenure, the problems of marketing and distribution 
received much greater attention than before and the Department of Agriculture 
became a magnet for able agricultural economists. 

There is suggestive information on the growth of expertise in government during 
the Progressive era in Leonard D. White: "Public Administration/* Recent Social 
Trends in the United States ( New York, 1934), Vol. II, pp. 1414 E. 

It should be added that Wilson adhered to the venerable tradition of making 
diplomatic appointments from the ranks of scholars and men of letters. He offered 
two appointments, both declined, to President Charles William Eliot of Harvard; 
sent Professor Paul Reinsch, an expert on international affairs, to China, Walter 
Hines Page (an unfortunate choice) to Great Britain, Thomas Nelson Page (a 
politically opportune appointment) to Italy, the ineffable Henry Van Dyke of 
Princeton to the Netherlands, and Brand Whitlock to Belgium. The level of 
Wilson s ambassadorial appointments was generally considered satisfactory, but 
they were offset by Bryan s raid upon the competent professional diplomatic corps 
which had been built up by John Hay, Roosevelt, and Taft. Bryan s raid on 
ministerial appointments in the interest of "deserving Democrats," to which 
Wilson consented, has been described by Arthur Link as "the greatest debauchery 
of the Foreign Service in the twentieth century/ WiUon: The New Freedom, 
p. 106. 

The Rise of the Expert 

the least of whose talents was the capacity to feed Wilson s vanity. 
House, who served among other things as a channel for the views of 
the wealthy and powerful, was a strong counterpoise to Progressive 
figures in the Wilson circle such as Brandeis, Bryan, and McAdoo. 

Wilson s administration was not overwhelmingly popular among 
intellectuals in its first few years especially among those who thought 
that the Progressive movement should go beyond the effort to realize 
the old competitive ideals of small businessmen and do something 
about child labor, the position of Negroes, the condition of working- 
men, and the demand for women s suffrage. 4 Intellectuals interested in 
reform were too skeptical about Wilson to welcome unreservedly even 
the music of his sonorous speeches, which seemed to them to have 
overtones of a moralistic but unprogressive past, and their skepticism 
seemed justified by the halting manner in which reforms were pursued. 
Herbert Croly, who observed that Wilson s mind "is fully convinced 
of the everlasting righteousness of its own performances and surrounds 
this conviction with a halo of shimmering rhetoric," complained also 
that the President s thinking made "even the most concrete things 
seem like abstractions. . . . His mind is like a light which destroys the 
outlines of what it plays upon; there is much illumination, but you see 
very little." 5 

Only by 1916, in response to the recent achievements of the New 
Freedom and Wilson s success in keeping out of war, did liberal intel 
lectuals swing wholeheartedly to his support. The war itself, ironically, 
raised many of them to heights of influence as no domestic issue could. 
Historians and writers were mobilized for propaganda, and experts of 
all kinds were recruited as advisers. Military Intelligence, Chemical 
Warfare, the War Industries Board swarmed with academics, and 
Washington s Cosmos Club was reported to be "little better than a fac 
ulty meeting of all the universities." 6 In September 1919 Colonel House 

4 Link: Wilson: The New Freedom, chapter 8. A classic statement of tliis view- 
was made by Walter Lippmann in Drift and Mastery, especially chapter 7. 

5 "Presidential Complacency," New Republic, Vol. I (November 21, 1914), 
p. 7; "The Other-Worldliness of Wilson," Netv Republic, Vol. II (March 27, 1915)* 
p. 195. Charles Forcey s The Crossroads of Liberalism, Croly, Weyl, Lippmann 
and the Progressive Era, 1900-19.25 (New York, 1961) is instructive about the 
relations of the New Republic group with Roosevelt and Wilson. On the impasse 
the New Freedom seemed to have reached by 1914 and the discouragement of 
liberal intellectuals, see Arthur Link: Woodrow Wilson, and his The Progressive 
Era, 1910-2917 (New York, 1954)> especially pp. 66-80. 

6 Gordon Hall Gerould: "The Professor and the Wide, Wide World/ 
Scribners, Vol. LXV (April, 1919), p. 466. Gerould thought it would no longer be 
possible to condescend to the professors after this experience. "The jprofessor," 
wrote another, ". . . was reputed to be learned, and much, to everyone s surprise 


organized for Wilson the group of scholars known as The Inquiry 
(which already had its counterparts in Great Britain and France). At 
one time the expert personnel of The Inquiry numbered 150 persons 
historians, geographers, statisticians, ethnologists, economists, politi 
cal scientists and these, with their assistants and staffs, brought the 
number of the whole organization to several hundred. Kept secret until 
the Armistice, The Inquiry was then revamped as the Intelligence 
Division of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace, and its staff 
accompanied Wilson to Paris, where it played a part of no small im 
portance. There was a certain amount of amused comment about this 
group in the press, and a certain skepticism among old-school diplomats 
about this tribe of political amateurs, with their three army trucldoads 
of documents. 7 On the whole, however, considering the passions 
aroused by the war, the peace negotiations, and the debate over the 
treaty and the League Covenant, what is most remarkable is the general 
public acceptance of scholars in their advisory role. A politician like 
Senator Lawrence Sherman of Illinois who launched a long and fero 
cious diatribe against the expansion of governmental powers during the 
war, and particularly against "a government by professors and intellec 
tuals," stood out as an exception for his rancorous anti-intellectualism. 8 

he has turned out to be intelligent." "The Demobilized Professor," Atlantic 
Monthly, Vol. CXXIII (April, 1919), p. 539. Paul Van Dyke thought that the 
college man had succeeded, during the war, in showing that he -was virile and 

radical, not soft or incompetent. "The College Man in Action/ Scribner s, Vol. 
XV (May, 1919), pp. 5603. It is instructive to compare the argument of this 
piece with the earlier utterances of Theodore Roosevelt. 

7 On The Inquiry and its personnel, see the article by its head, Sidney E. 
Mezes, in E. M. House and Charles Seymour., eds.: What Really Happened at 
Paris (New York, 1921); Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United 
States., 1919, Vol. I, The Paris Peace Conference (Washington, 1942); J. T. Shot- 
well: At the Paris Peace Conference, pp. 1516. On wartime mobilization of 
science, see A. Hunter Dupree: Science in the Federal Government, chapter 16. 

8 This remarkable speech is replete with the cliches of anti-intellectualism, and 
though it can hardly be imagined to have had much influence at the time, it must 
be taken as a landmark in anti-intellectualist oratory: "... a coterie of politicians 
gilded and plated by a group of theorizing, intolerant intellectuals as wildly im 
practical as ever beat high heaven with their phrase-making jargon. . . . They 
appeal to the iconoclast, the freak, the degenerate . . . essayists of incalculable 
horsepower who have essayed everything under the sun ... a fair sprinkle of 
socialists. . . . Everything will be discovered. . . . Psychologists with X-ray 
vision drop different colored handkerchiefs on a table, spill a half pint of navy 
beans, ask you in a sepulchral tone what disease Walter Raleigh died of, and de 
mand the number of legumes without counting. Your memory, perceptive faculties, 
concentration, and other mental giblets are tagged and you are pigeonholed for 
future reference. I have seen those psychologists in my time and have dealt with 
them. If they were put out in a forest or in a potato patch, they have not sense 
enough to kill a rabbit or dig a potato to save themselves from the pangs of 
starvation. This is a government by professors and intellectuals. I repeat, intellec- 

The Rise of the Expert 

But he was prophetic of the future, for the reaction against the war 
liquidated the Progressive spirit. 

The public mood changed with stunning abruptness. W illiam Allen 
White, who in 1919 was still telling the chairman of the Republican 
National Committee that the party s "incrusted old reactionaries" were 
done for, was lamenting a year later that "the Pharisees are running 
the temple" and that the people were not even troubling to object. 
"What a God-damned world this is!" he wrote to Ray Stannard Baker in 
1920. "If anyone had told me ten years ago that our country would be 
what it is today ... I should have questioned his reason." 9 The con 
sequences were fatal for the position of the intellectuals: having tied 
themselves to Wilson and the conduct of the war, they had made it 
certain that they would suffer from the public reaction against him and 
everything connected with him. But, more decisively, they had broken 
their own morale by the uncritical enthusiasm with which most of them 
had entered into the war spirit. With the exception of some socialists 
and a few thinkers like Randolph Bourne and the group behind the 
Seven Arts magazine, the intellectuals were either engaged in the war 
or supported it wholeheartedly, and they entertained the same fervid 
expectations of triumph and reform as a result of it that many of them 
had had with respect to the Progressive movement. The peace left them 
disappointed, ashamed, guilty. "If I had it to do all over again," said 
Walter Lippmann, "I would take the other side. . . . We supplied the 
Battalion of Death with too much ammunition." And Herbert Croly 
confessed that he had had no idea "what the psychology of the Ameri 
can people would be under the strain of fighting a world war." a The 
rapprochement between the intellectuals and the people dissolved 
even more quickly than it had been made. The public turned on the 
intellectuals as the prophets of false and needless reforms, as architects 
of the administrative state, as supporters of the war, even as ur- 
Bolsheviks; the intellectuals turned on America as a nation of boobs, 
Babbitts, and fanatics. Those who were young and free enough ex 
patriated themselves; the others stayed home and read Mencken. It 
-would take a depression and another era of reform to overcome this 

tuals are good enough in their places, but a country run by professors is ultimately 
destined to Bolshevism and an explosion." Congressional Record? 65th Congress, 
and session, pp. 9875, 9877 ( September 3, 1918). 

9 Walter Johnson, ed.: Selected Letters of William AUen White (New York, 
1947), PP- i99-*oo> 208, sis. 

1 Forcey: op. cit., pp. 5192, 301. 


During the New Deal the rapprochement between intellectuals and 
the public was restored. Never had there been such complete harmony 
between the popular cause in politics and the dominant mood of the 
intellectuals. In the Progressive era, the intellectuals and the public 
had, by and large, espoused the same causes. In the New Deal era, the 
causes were still more engaging, and the need for intellectuals to play a 
practical role was greater than anyone could have anticipated in the 
days of Wilson and T.R. But the minority that opposed the New Deal 
did so with a feverish hostility rarely seen in American politics. While 
the intellectuals were riding high, a rancorous feeling was forming 
against them that burst out spectacularly after World War II. 

In the long run, the intellectuals were to suffer from this intransigent 
minority almost as much as they profited in the short run from the pa 
tronage of the New Deal. But, in its first flush, what patronage it was! 
Like everyone else, intellectuals had suffered from the depression, 
sharing in its unemployment and in its shock to morale. The New 
Deal gave thousands of jobs to young lawyers and economists, -who 
flocked to Washington to staff its newly created agencies of regulation; 
the research, artistic, and theater projects of the WPA and NYA helped 
unemployed artists, intellectuals, and college students. Even more im 
portant than this practical aid was a pervasive intangible: by making 
use of theorists and professors as advisers and ideologists, the New 
Deal brought the force of mind into closer relation with power than 
it had been -within the memory of any living man closer than it had 
been since the days of the Founding Fathers. To offer important work 
to young men emerging from colleges and law schools was in itself an 
arresting novelty. But to give to academic advisers such importance as 
the New Deal gave was to aggrandize the role of every professor and 
of every speculative or dissenting mind. Ideas, theories, criticisms took 
on a new value, and the place to go for them was to men who were 
intellectually trained. 2 The economic collapse had demonstrated that 
such men were needed, but it was the New Deal that showed how 
they could make themselves felt. Not surprisingly, the New Deal 
aroused the enthusiasm of all but a small number of conservative in 
tellectuals on one side and a small number of radicals at the other. 

2 As Paul P. Van Riper points out, this led to a certain privilege in influencing 
new policies, which he describes as "ideological patronage." Op. cit., pp. 324-8- 

215 The Rise of the Expert 

(Even the Communists, who opposed the New Deal violently from 
Z 933 to 1Q35* were able, as we now know, both to infiltrate its ranks 
and to exploit the public mood in which it flourished. ) 

The primary manifestation of the changed position of intellectuals 
was the creation of the brain trust, which was almost constantly in the 
news during the first few years of the New Deal. Conspicuous brain 
trusters like Raymond Moley, Rexford Guy Tugwell, and Adolph A. 
Berle, who were most often under attack, were symbols of the hun 
dreds of obscurer men who staffed federal agencies, notably the pro 
teges of Felix Frankfurter who came to Washington from Harvard. In 
the earliest days of the New Deal President Roosevelt himself enjoyed 
such prestige that it was psychologically more natural and strategically 
easier for his opponents to strike at him through those around him by 
suggesting that he was accepting ideas from sinister or irresponsible 
advisers. Among other things, the brain trust became useful to the 
President as a kind of lightning rod. Much invective that might other 
wise have fallen directly upon him as the central figure of the New 
Deal fell instead upon those around him and they could be shifted, if 
the going got rough, into more obscure positions. 

After the early eclipse of Raymond Moley, Professor Rexford Guy 
Tugwell became the favorite target for conservative critics of the New 
Deal. It was TugwelTs misfortune to believe in some forms of planning 
and to have written several books expounding his ideas. His nomina 
tion as Undersecretary of Agriculture in June, 1934 brought a wave of 
protest against the exaltation of so sinister a theorist. "Cotton Ed" Smith 
of South Carolina, one of the most implacable mastodons of the Senate, 
was so insistent in establishing the point that Tugwell was "not a 
graduate of God s Great University" that the Columbia economist had 
to go to great lengths to prove himself a true dirt farmer who as a boy 
had had plenty of mud on his boots. ("Tell Rex," said F.D.R. to 
Henry A. Wallace, "that I was surprised to hear that he was so dirty.") 
The diploma needed for agriculture, Smith told the Senate, "is ob 
tained by bitter experience, and no man can solve the problems of 
agriculture in America but the man who has trodden the wine press of 
experience in the field/* ( He was unable to name a single past Secre 
tary of Agriculture who met this requirement.) Roosevelt could ap 
pease Smith only by appointing as United States Marshal one of 
Smith s favored constituents, who had a record of homicide and whom 
the President described to the Cabinet as Smith s "favorite murderer.** 
On the strength of this trade one professor for one murderer Tug- 


well finally won Senate confirmation by a vote of fifty-three to twenty- 

The bad press Tugwell got became worse wlien his ardent sponsor 
ship of pure food and drug legislation caused such influential advertis 
ers as the proprietary drug houses to mobilize the press against him. 
Even James A. Farley, neither a radical nor an intellectual, winced at 
publicity so "raw and uncalled for." The picture of Tugwell painted by 
his most ardent critics was two-faced: on one side he was a totally 
feckless, academic, impractical theorist (half an inferior pedagogue, 
Mencken said, and half a "kept idealist of the New Republic" ); on the 
other he was an effective, insidious, subversive force, quite capable of 
wreaking major damage on the fabric of society. TugwelTs patience 
under fire suggests that the academic man recruited into politics need 
not necessarily be thin-skinned. 3 

If the brain trust was to serve the opposition as a suitable whipping 
boy, it was necessary that its significance as a center of power be 
greatly exaggerated. "The T^rain trust/ " said a writer in the Chicago 
Tribune, "completely overshadows the Cabinet. It is reputed to have 
more influence with the President. ... It has taken the professors 
from various colleges to put the Cabinet members in their places at 
last merely department heads, chief clerks. On a routine administra 
tive matter you go to a Cabinet member, but on matters of policy and 
the higher statesmanship you consult the prof essoriat." 4 It is true that 
at the very beginning of the New Deal during its first hundred days 
a panicky Congress quickly and complaisantly passed a great mass 
of legislation that it did not have the time or the will to scrutinize with 
the customary care. This left an unusual amount of discretion in legal 
draftsmanship and even in policy-making to the inner planning circles 
of the New Deal, in which expert advisers, though never controlling, 

3 TugwelTs reputation and his role in the New Deal are amply accounted for by 
Bernard Sternsher s unpublished doctoral dissertation: Rexford Guy Tugivett and 
the New Deal, Boston University, 1957. The debate over his appointment is 
instructive: Congressional Record, 73rd Congress, 2nd session, pp. 1115660, 
11334-42, 11427-62 (June 12, 13, 14, 1934). See also Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: 
The Coming of the Netv Deal (Boston, 1958), chapter 21; James A. Farley: 
Behind the Ballots (New York, 1938), pp. 219-20; H. L. Mencken: "Three 
Years of Dr. Roosevelt," American Mercury (March, 1936), p. 264. For further 
insight into the position of New Deal experts, see Richard S. KLrkendalTs un 
published doctoral dissertation: The New Deal Professors and the Politics of 
Agriculture, University of Wisconsin, 1958. 

4 Literary Digest, Vol. CXV (June 3, 1933), p. 8. In fact, the brain trust, as an 
identifiable organization, was called into being for the 1932 campaign and ceased 
to exist when it was over. In speaking of it more loosely, I have followed the usage 
of contemporaries. 

-217 The Rise of the Expert 

were decidedly influential. However, the structure of power in the 
United States makes it impossible for many vital decisions to be made 
for very long by a small portion of the professoriat -without roots in 
any basic class interest or political constituency. As the mood of panic 
passed, the normal processes of Congressional scrutiny returned and 
limited the influence of the technical advisers. For the most part, the 
steps taken under the New Deal which pleased the intellectuals and 
the experimenters were taken not because the experts favored them but 
because some large constituency wanted them. The brain trusters 
served the public often very well but they did not govern it. With 
few exceptions, the more idealistic and experimental schemes of the 
liberal brain trusters were circumvented, circumscribed, or sabotaged. 
It is true that the New Deal tried some unsuccessful inflationary mone 
tary experiments advocated by a few academic theorists. But these 
were backed by immensely powerful inflationist pressures in the Sen 
ate, and they were not dear to the hearts of most of Roosevelt s expert 
advisers. On vital issues, the liberal experts almost invariably lost. The 
liberal theorists, led by Jerome Frank, who tried to represent the in 
terests of the consumers in the NBA and of sharecroppers in the AAA 
were soon driven out. Rexford TugwelTs imaginative ideas for rural 
resettlement were crippled beyond recognition, and Tugwell himself 
was eventually consigned to the outer regions. Raymond Moley, who 
fell into conflict with Secretary of State Cordell Hull over the London 
Economic Conference, lost out to the Cabinet member. 5 

None the less, the notion became widely current that the professors 
were running things, and a veritable brain -trust war began -which re 
awakened and quickened the old traditions of anti-intellectualism. The 
professors were not running things and yet there was some kernel of 
truth in the popular notion that they were: they did represent some 
thing new in the constellation of power in the United States. They did 
not wield a great deal of power themselves, in the sense that it did not 
rest with them to make the central decisions. But upon those who did 
wield power they exercised a pervasive and vital influence, for it had 
now become a prerogative of experts to set the very terms in which the 
issues were perceived, to define the contours of economic and social 
issues. The right wingers who denounced professors and brain trusters, 
however cranky their conceptions of the world of power, thus had a 

5 For detailed information on the manner in which the proposals of professors 
were blunted in one area by business power, see the work by Kirkendall already 


sound instinct. And if they did not have the ear of the majority of the 
public, they did at least have on their side some of the old weapons of 
popular prejudice, which they soon began to brandish. Moreover, the 
celebrity the professors enjoyed for a time enabled them to overshadow 
old-line politicians and businessmen, who found it particularly galling 
that a class of men hitherto so obscure and so little regarded should 
eclipse them in the public eye and make their role in society seem so 
much less significant. With his usual bald exaggeration, H. L. Mencken 
saw the irony of the transformation: "A few years ago all the New Deal 
Isaiahs were obscure and impotent fellows who flushed with pride 
when they got a nod from the cop at the corner; today they have the 
secular rank of princes of the blood, and the ghostly faculties of cardinal 
archbishops/ The brain trusters, he continued, were so successful that 
they had begun to believe in their own panaceas. "What would you 
do," he asked, 6 

if you were hauled suddenly out of a bare, smelly school-room, 
wherein the razzberries of sophomores had been your only music, 
and thrown into a place of power and glory almost befitting 
Caligula, Napoleon I, or J. Pierpont Morgan, with whole herds of 
Washington correspondents crowding up to take down your every 
wheeze, and the first pages of their newspapers thrown open to 
your complete metaphysic? 

The critics of the New Deal exaggerated the power of the intellec 
tuals and also portrayed them as impractical, irresponsible, conspira 
torial experimentalists, grown arrogant and publicity-conscious be 
cause of their sudden rise from obscurity to prominence. Choosing 
comment almost at random from the Saturday Evening Post, an un 
impeachable source of anti-intellectualism, one finds them character 
ized thus: 7 

A bunch of professors hauled from their classrooms and thrust 
into the maelstrom of the New Deal. Very self-conscious; arrogant 
seekers after publicity for themselves now they have a chance to 

6 H. L. Mencken: "The New Deal Mentality," American Mercury, Vol. XXXVIII 
(May, 1936), p. 4- 

7 Samuel G. Blythe: "Kaleidoscope,** Saturday Evening Post, Vol. CCVI (Sep 
tember 2,, 1933), p. 7; Blythe: "Progress on the Potomac," Saturday Evening 
Post, December 2, 1933, p. 10; editorials, Saturday Evening Post, December 9, 
*933 5 p- 22,, and April 7, 1934, pp. 24-5; William V. Hodges: "Realities Are 
Coming/* Saturday Evening Post, April ai, 1934, p. 5. See also Margaret Culkin 
Banning: ^"Amateur Year/* Saturday Evening Post, April 28, 1934; Katherine 
Dayton: "Capitol Punishments/* Saturday Evening Post, December 23, 1933. 

The Rise of the Expert 

get it; eager self -expressionists basking like cats before a fireplace 
in their new distinctions. . . . The men who rush about and ask 
excitedly: "What* s the dollar going to do?" As if it makes the slight 
est difference to them what the dollar does not one of them can 
muster a hundred dollars of any sort. . . . Out came the profes 
sorial law, modified of course, here and there by non-professorial 
meddlers in the halls of Congress, but with plenty of professorial 
ideas in them at that. . . . No thoughtful man can escape the con 
clusion that many of the brain trust ideas and plans are based on 
Russian ideology. . . , Somebody should tell these bright young 
intellectuals and professors the facts of business life. The stork does 
not bring profits and prosperity, and sound currency does not grow 
under cabbages. ... In the end it must be the farmer and the 
industrialist, assisted by nature and wisely backed by Government, 
who cure their own ills. . . . 

Are we so silly, so supine as to permit amateur, self-confessed 
experimentalists to take our social and business fabric apart to see 
if they cannot reconstruct it in a pattern that is more to their lik 
ing? . . . laboratory experiments on the life, liberty and industry 
of America. . . . There is a vast difference between an experi 
ment made in a test tube and one made on a living nation. That 
smacks altogether too much of vivisection . . . men untainted 
with any practical experience . . . government by amateurs col 
lege boys, irrespective of their age who have drunk deep, per 
haps of the Pierian spring, have recently taken some hearty 
swigs of Russian vodka . . . the theorist, the dreamer of political 
dreams, rainmakers and prestidigitators. . . . Realistic senators 
and representatives have no haven but the seclusion of the locker 
room. . . . 

Defenders of the intellectuals tried to arrive at a more reasonable 
estimate of their actual power, and to point out that they could hardly 
do worse than the "practical" men they had displaced. Oswald Garri 
son Villard, writing in the Nation, welcomed the "complete route of the 
practical men," and pointed out that all over the world "the practical 
men are utterly at a loss." s Jonathan Mitchell, then a liberal journalist 
and a former New Deal adviser, in one of the most thoughtful analyses 
of the subject, tried to show that Roosevelt s use of academic experts 

8 "Issues and Men, the Idealist Comes to the Front/* Nation, Vol. CXXXVII 
(October 4, 1933), P- 37 1- Cf. the same view in the New Republic: "The Brain 
Trust" (June 7, 1933X PP- 85-6. 


was a natural consequence of the crisis and of the peculiarities of 
American administrative life. The professors were not in fact setting 
major policies, he wrote, but simply advising about instrumentalities. 
In the absence of a class of civil servants trained for such a purpose, the 
President s sudden resort to men from outside political or administra 
tive circles was almost inevitable. 9 On this count Mitchell was entirely 
right. Politicians could not handle the issues raised by the depression; 
civil servants of the right type did not exist to cope with them; and most 
business leaders seemed worse than useless. As Samuel I. Rosenman 
advised the President: "Usually in a situation like this a candidate 
gathers around him a group composed of some successful industrialists, 
some big financiers, and some national political leaders. I think we 
ought to steer clear of all those. They all seem to have failed to produce 
anything constructive to solve the mess we re in today. . . . Why not 
go to the universities of the country?" x 

But Mitchell s analysis might well have been taken by foes of the 
New Deal as inflammatory: 

What Mr. Roosevelt needed was a neutral, someone who didn t 
smell of Wall Street but who, on the other hand, -wouldn t too 
greatly scare the wealthy. Moreover, he needed someone who 
would have the brains, competence, and willingness to carry 
through whatever policies he determined upon. Mr. Roosevelt 
chose college professors; there is no other group in the country 
which these specifications fit. . . . 

We have in America no hereditary land-owning class from 
which to recruit our New Deal civil service. Our nearest equiva 
lents are the college professors, and the neutral professor in Wash 
ington is the element which will decide the New Deal s success or 
failure. . . . There was once a time in this country when we did 
have a class set apart, to whom others submitted their disputes 
without question. That class was the colonial ministers, particularly 
of New England. They were generally unconcerned with worldly 
things; they regulated their communities with a sterner hand 
than Mr. Roosevelt s New Deal is ever likely to employ, and 
they gave judgment according to the light they had. . . . The 
New England ministers have long since departed, but the college 
professors are their collateral heirs. ... In the future, we shall 

9 Jonathan Mitchell: "Don t Shoot the Professors! Why the Government Needs 
Them," Harpers, Vol. GLXVIII ( May, 1934) > PP- 743, 749- 

1 Samuel I. Rosenman: Working with Roosevelt ( New York, 1952), p. 57. 

The Rise of the Expert 

succeed in building for ourselves a professional American civil 
service, supported by its own loyalties and tradition. 

None of this could have been expected to appease or reassure the 
businessmen, displaced politicians, and other members of the conserva 
tive classes, who felt little need for a professional civil service, who 
understandably could not believe that the professors were "neutral/ 
who thought that professors did indeed scare the wealthy, and who 
could only have been alarmed at the thought of having any class to 
which disputes would be submitted "without question." No answer, 
not even an answer couched more moderately than Mitchell s, could 
assuage their basic fear, which was not a fear of the brain trust or the 
expert, but of the collapse of the world in which they had put their 
faith. Among such enemies, the prerogatives offered by the New Deal 
to intellectuals and experts only served to confirm old traditions of anti- 
intellectualism, and to strengthen them with new suspicions and re 

The Second World War, like the first, increased the need for experts, 
not only the sort the New Deal employed but also men from previously 
untapped fields of scholarship even classicists and archaeologists were 
suddenly thought important because of their knowledge of the Mediter 
ranean area. But when the war ended, the long-delayed revulsion 
from the New Deal experience and the war itself swept over the coun 
try. For this reaction the battle against the brain trust had laid the 
groundwork. With it, the rapprochement between the intellectuals 
and the popular democracy once more came to an end. 


In 1952 Adlai Stevenson became the victim of the accumulated griev 
ances against intellectuals and brain trusters which had festered in the 
American right wing since 1933. Unfortunately, his political fate was 
taken as a yardstick by which liberal intellectuals measured the posi 
tion of intellect in American political life. It was a natural mistake to 
make: Stevenson had the dimensions and the appeal o a major tragic 
hero, and intellectuals identified his cause with their own. After the 
embarrassments of the Truman administration, it was refreshing to 
listen to his literate style. But more decisive were the overwhelming 
differences between Stevenson s manner and the Eisenhower-Nixon 
campaign. Strong as the contrast was between Stevenson s flair for the 


apt phrase (and his evident ability to work with campaign advisers 
who shared it) and the fumbling inarticulateness of Eisenhower s 
early political manner, it was heightened by Nixon, with his egregious 
"Checkers" speech, his sure touch for the philistine cliche, and his crass 
eulogies of his senior partner. Finally, there was the ugly image of 
McCarthy, whose contributions to the campaign were all too plainly 
welcomed by his party. One does not expect American presidential 
campaigns to set a high tone, but the tone of the Republican campaign 
of 1952, which by comparison seemed to endow even Tinman s shame 
less baiting of Wall Street with a touch of old-fashioned dignity, was 
such as to throw into high relief every one of Stevenson s attractive 

Intellectuals embraced Stevenson with a readiness and a unanimity 
that seems without parallel in American history. Theodore Roosevelt, 
after all, had had to earn such popularity as he enjoyed among the 
intellectuals of his day during a long public career; when he took the 
presidency there -were many intellectuals who regarded him with a 
mixture of suspicion and amusement; his closest rapport with them 
was indeed achieved only after he left the White House; it was 
climaxed by the Bull Moose campaign of 1912 and then eclipsed by 
his wartime jingoism. Woodrow Wilson, for all his style and his aca 
demic origins, was treated by a substantial segment of the intellectual 
community with a cold reserve that matched his own manner; many 
intellectuals agreed with Walter Lippmann s contemporary diagnosis 
of the New Freedom as an ill-conceived, backward-looking movement 
designed mainly for small business interests; and finally, Wilson s repu 
tation suffered badly from the reaction against the mob-mindedness 
of the war years from which the President himself had not been im 
mune. Franklin D. Roosevelt, for all the publicity given his brain 
trust, disappointed most intellectuals during his first presidential cam 
paign, and remained an object of distrust and sharp left-wing criticism 
during the early years of the New Deal. The intellectuals did not 
greatly warm to him until the very eve of the 1936 campaign, and even 
then seemed to love him mainly for the enemies he had made. With 
Stevenson it was different: men who had hardly heard of him as 
Governor of Illinois, and for whom he was a new star in the firmament 
at the time of his nomination in 1952, took him to their hearts at once 
upon hearing his acceptance speech. He seemed too good to be true. 

At a time when the McCarthyist pack was in full cry, it was hard to 
resist the conclusion that Stevenson s smashing defeat was also a 

The Rise of the Expert 

repudiation by plebiscite of American intellectuals and of intellect it 
self. Those intellectuals who drew this conclusion were confirmed by 
their critics, among whom there was a great deal of solemn head- 
shaking: American intellectuals, it was said, did not feel for or under 
stand their country; they had grown irresponsible and arrogant; their 
chastening was very much in order. That many intellectuals were hurt 
there can be no doubt; but the notion that Stevenson was repudiated 
by the public because of his reputation for wit and intellect will not 
bear analysis, and the implications of his defeat on this count have been 
vastly exaggerated. In 1952, he was hopelessly overmatched. It was a 
year in which any appealing Republican could have beaten any Demo 
crat, and Eisenhower was more than appealing: he was a national 
hero of irresistible magnetism whose popularity overshadowed not only 
Stevenson but every other man on the political scene. After twenty 
years of Democratic rule, the time for a change in the parties was over 
due, if the two-party system was to have any meaning. The Korean 
War and its discontents alone provided a sufficient issue for the Repub 
licans; and they were able to capitalize on lesser issues like the Hiss 
case and other revelations of Communist infiltration into the federal 
government, and the discovery of trifling but titillating corruption in 
the Truman administration. Stevenson s hopeless position might more 
readily have been accepted as such if the Republican campaign, in 
which Nixon and McCarthy seemed more conspicuous than Eisen 
hower, had not struck such a low note as to stir the -will to believe that 
such men must be rejected by the public. 

In retrospect, however, there seems no reason to believe that Steven 
son s style and wit and integrity were anything but assets in his cam 
paign, and that if he had not won a reputation for himself on these 
counts his defeat would have been still more complete. The notion that 
the greater part of the public was totally immune to the value of his 
qualities will not bear even a casual examination. If his personal 
qualities had been so unattractive as some admirers and detractors 
alike believed, it is hard to understand how he could have won the 
governorship of Illinois in 1948 by the largest plurality in the state s 
history, or why the Democratic convention should have drafted him 
four years later, in spite of his well-publicized reluctance to be nomi 
nated, after the merest brief exposure to his eloquent welcoming 
speech. ( It was the first draft since Hughes s in 1916, and perhaps the 
only draft of a thoroughly reluctant candidate in our political history. ) 
Even the dimensions of Stevenson s defeat were magnified by the 


dramatic contrast between his campaign and that of the Republicans. 
Twelve years earlier, Wendell Willkie, also running against the great 
political hero of the moment, received almost exactly the same per cent 
of the pop-alar vote as Stevenson 44.4 to 44.3 and Willkie was con 
sidered a leader of exceptionally dynamic qualities. The truth seems to 
be that both candidates in 1952 were personally strong, and with 
political excitements running high, both drew the voters to the polls in 
large numbers. Stevenson in defeat had a larger popular vote than 
Truman in his victory of 1948 or Roosevelt in 1944 and 1940. And after 
the election his mail was full of letters from people who had voted for 
Eisenhower but who expressed their admiration for his campaign and 
their wish that circumstances had been different enough to justify 
their supporting him. 

This is not to deny that something was missing from the "image" in 
the now fashionable jargon that Stevenson projected. He knew all too 
well the difficulty of taking over the leadership of the Democratic 
Party after its twenty years in power. But his reluctance to assume 
power though in a certain light it may be taken as creditable was 
all too real, and it aroused misgivings. "I accept your nomination and 
your program/ he said to the Democratic convention. "I should have 
preferred to hear these words uttered by a stronger, a wiser, a better 
man than myself." It was not the right note for the times; it made for 
uneasiness, and many found it less attractive than Eisenhower s bland 
confidence. Stevenson s humility seemed genuine, but he proffered it 
all too proudly. One could recognize his ability to analyze public ques 
tions with integrity and without deference to the conventional hokum, 
and yet remain in doubt as to whether he had that imaginative grasp 
of the uses and possibilities of power which, in recent times, the two 
Roosevelts had conveyed with the most effective force. ( One cannot, 
however, refrain from commenting on the delusive character of the 
contrasting impressions given by Eisenhower and Stevenson: Eisen 
hower s regime had its merits, but the General, in power, failed to 
unite or elevate his party, whereas Stevenson out of power did a great 
deal to renew and invigorate his. ) 

We would be deluded, then, if we attributed Stevenson s defeat to 
his reputation for intellectuality, or even if we assumed that this repu 
tation was a liability instead of an asset. But for a substantial segment 
of the public this quality was indeed a liability; and without any desire 
to exaggerate the size or influence of this group, we must examine it, 

The Rise of the Expert 

for these people are of primary interest to any study of anti-intellectual 

The quality in Stevenson that excited most frequent attack was not 
his intellect as such, but his wit. 2 In this country wit has never been 
popular in political leaders. The public enjoys and accepts humor 
Lincoln, T.K, and F.D.R. used it to some effect but humor is folkish, 
usually quite simple, and readily accessible. Wit is humor intellectual- 
ized; it is sharper; it has associations with style and sophistication, over 
tones of aristocracy. Repeatedly Stevenson was referred to as a "come 
dian" or a "clown" and portrayed in cartoons as a jester with fooFs cap 
and bells. Against the somber, angry, frustrating background of the 
Korean War, his wit seemed to his detractors altogether out of place; 
Eisenhower s dull but solid sobriety of utterance seemed more in keep 
ing with the hour. It did Stevenson s supporters little good to point out 
that he did not jest about the Korean War itself or about other matters 
of solemn moment to the voters. Far from overcoming other handicaps 
in his public image, his wit seemed to widen the distance between him 
self and a significant part of the electorate. ("His fluent command of 
the English language is far above the heads of the ordinary American.") 
One of the revealing comments of the campaign was made by a 
woman who wrote to the Detroit News that "we should have something 
in common with a candidate for President, and that s why I m voting 
for General Eisenhower." 

Stevenson had been a character witness for Alger Hiss and on this 
account was especially vulnerable to the common tandem association 
between intellect and radicalism, radicalism and disloyalty. His intel 
lectual supporters were easily tarred with the same brush, and the 
fact that so many of them came from the East, particularly from Har 
vard, was significant in the minds of many critics. HARVARD TELLS 
INDIANA HOW TO VOTE, ran a headline in a Chicago Tribune 
editorial whose argument was that Stevenson was in the hands of the 
Schlesingers, father and son, and Archibald MacLeish, all of whom 
were held to have had the most sinister associations. Westbrook Pegler, 
who had not forgotten Felix Frankfurter s influence on the New Deal, 

2 For information and for the quoted matter in the following paragraphs, which 
is taken from editorials and letters to newspapers, I have drawn on George A. 
Hage s illuminating unpublished study: Anti-intellectualism in Newspaper Com 
ment on the Elections of 182.8 and 1952,, University of Minnesota doctoral disserta 
tion, 1958; see the same writer s "Anti-intellectualism in Press Comment 1828 
and 1952," Journalism Quarterly, Vol. XXXVI (Fall, 1959), pp. 439-46. 


took pains to remind readers that Stevenson, like F.D.IL, had had 
Harvard associations. He had spent a few years at Harvard Law School, 
where it seemed to Pegler that he must surely have succumbed to 
Frankfurter s wiles; Stevenson had been, Pegler thought, "a New Deal 
bureaucrat of the most dangerous type intermittently ever since 1933." 
Pegler imagined he had noticed an attempt by Stevenson s supporters 
and biographers to play down his Harvard connections and his sup 
posed left-wing associations; but none of this could conceal from the 
vigilant Pegler the fact that "the Springfield wonder boy is serving a 
warmed-over version of the leftist political line." As a consequence of 
Stevenson s malign Harvard associations, Frankfurter, Hiss, the Schle- 
singers, and Stevenson all merged into a single ominous image in 
right-wing fantasies. 

Other university associations were no better. When a large number 
of Columbia University faculty members published a manifesto prais 
ing Stevenson and criticizing Eisenhower, then the university s presi 
dent, the New York Daily Netos countered with an exposure of al 
leged "pinko professors" among the signers. A Midwestern newspaper 
more calmly remarked that the opposition of Columbia students and 
faculty would work in Eisenhower s favor because everyone knew that 
university people "have had their minds infiltrated with strong leftist 
Socialistic ideas, as well as with definite Communistic loyalties/ Such 
support only damned Stevenson. "Stevenson, the intellectual, must 
share the views of his advisers or he would not have selected them. A 
vote for Eisenhower, the plain American, is a vote for democracy." Old 
resentments against the New Deal were everywhere in evidence among 
writers to whom this argument of disloyalty was significant: "We have 
strayed far afield from the good old American ways which made this 
country great. Our colleges are full of leftists, and these Tbright young 
boys want to make this country over into a Tbright new world/ May 
we be protected from another four years of New Deal-Fair Deal." 

The association of intellectuality and style with effeminacy which I 
have remarked on in connection with the reformers of the Gilded Age 
reappeared in the 1952 campaign. Here Stevenson was sadly handi 
capped, Since his service in both world wars had been in a civilian 
capacity, he had nothing to counter Eisenhower s record as a general. 
Had he been a boxer, hunter, or soldier like T.R., or a football player 
(Eisenhower had this too to his credit), or an artilleryman like Harry 
Truman, or a war hero like Kennedy, the impression that he was re 
moved from the hard masculine world of affairs might have been 

The Rise of the Expert 

mitigated. But he was only a gentleman with an Ivy League back 
ground, and there was nothing in his career to spare him from the 
reverberations this history set up in the darker corners of the American 
mind. The New York Daily News descended to calling him Adelaide 
and charged that he "trilled * his speeches in a "fruity * voice. His 
voice and diction were converted into objects of suspicion "teacup 
words," it was said, reminiscent of "a genteel spinster who can never 
forget that she got an A in elocution at Miss Smith s Finishing School/ 
His supporters? They were "typical Harvard lace-cuff liberals," "lace- 
panty diplomats," "pornpadoured lap dogs," who wailed "in perfumed 
anguish" at McCarthy s accusations and on occasions "giggled" about 
their own anti-Communism. Politics, Stevenson s critics were disposed 
to say, is a rough game for men. The governor and his f ollowers ought 
to be prepared to slug it out. They would do well to take a lesson from 
Richard Nixon s "manly explanation of his financial affairs." 

Even in quarters where rancor and vulgarity were absent, there 
was a frequently stated preference for the "proven ability" of Eisen 
hower as compared wi|li Stevenson, who smacked of the "ivory tower." 
"On the basis of past performance, I feel we need Eisenhower, the man 
of outstanding achievement, rather than Stevenson, the thinker and 
orator." Jefferson and John Quincy Adams might well have found a 
familiar note in this remark of a partisan: "Eisenhower knows more 
about world conditions than any other two men in the country, and he 
didn t obtain his knowledge through newspapers and books either." 
The theme is unlikely to lose its usefulness. Eight years later, cam 
paigning for Nixon and Lodge, Eisenhower himself said of them: 
"These men didn t learn their lessons merely out of books and not 
even by writing books. They learned these lessons by meeting the 
day-in, day-out problems of our changing world." 3 

But in the same campaign John F. Kennedy proved what perhaps 
should not have had to be proved again that the reading of books^ 
even the writing of books, is hardly a fatal impediment for a presi 
dential aspirant who combines a reputation for mind -with the other 
necessary qualities. Kennedy seems to have brought back to presidential 
politics the combination of intellect and character shown at the be 
ginning of the century by T.R. a combination in which a respect for 
intellectual and cultural distinction and a passion for intelligence and 
expertise in public service are united with the aggressive and practical 
virtues. Stevenson as a campaigner had seemed all sensitivity and 

8 The New York Times, November 3, 1960. 


diffidence and had appealed to the intellectuals* fond obsession with 
their own alienation and rejection; Kennedy, on the other hand, was 
all authority and confidence, and he appealed to their desire that intel 
lect and culture be associated with power and responsibility. He had 
all of Eisenhower s confidence without his passivity; and his victory 
over Nixon, despite his religion, his youth, and his relative obscurity 
at the time of his nomination, was in good part attributable to his 
visibly superior aggressiveness and self-assurance in their television 
debates to his show, as T.R. might have said, of the manly virtues. 

To most intellectuals, even to many with an ingrained suspicion of 
the manifestations of power, the mind of the new President seemed 
to be, if hardly profound, at least alert and capacious, sophisticated and 
skeptical, and he was quick to convey his belief that in the national 
concert of interests the claims of intellect and culture ought to have a 
place. Some highly intelligent Presidents before Kennedy Hoover, 
for example had been utterly impatient with the ceremonial functions 
of the presidency, which seemed to them only a waste of precious 
time on trivialities. The Founding Fathers had conceived the office 
differently. Many of them understood that the chief of state, above all 
in a republican political order, ought to be a personage, and that the 
communion between this personage and the public is an important 
thread in the fabric of government. Washington himself, whose very 
presence contributed to the success of the new government, was a 
perfect example of the performance of this function. In the twentieth 
century, the American mania for publicity and the development of the 
mass media have put a great strain upon the ceremonial and public 
side of the presidential office. Franklin D. Roosevelt, through skillful 
use of the radio and the press conference, was the first President to 
turn the demands of modern publicity into a major asset. Kennedy has 
been the first to see that intellectuals and artists are now a sufficiently 
important segment of the public to warrant not simply inclusion in the 
ceremonial aspects of state but some special effort to command their 
loyalty by awarding them a kind of official recognition. The President s 
mansion has thus been restored as a symbol: to the great audience its 
renovation has been displayed on television; for a smaller but strategic 
audience it has become once again a center of receptivity to culture 
Robert Frost, e. e. cummings, and Pablo Casals have been welcomed 
there. And the idea that power may owe some deference to intellect 
has been reaffirmed many times perhaps most impressively by a 
memorable dinner for Nobel laureates given in the spring of 1962, at 

The Rise of the Expert 

winch the President characteristically remarked that there were now 
more brains at the White House table than at any time since the days 
when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. 

Of course, all this -was merely a ceremonial means of recognizing the 
legitimacy of a special interest the kind of ceremonial whose func 
tion had long been understood, for example, by Irish politicians who 
attended Italian festivals or Jewish politicians who went to Irish wakes. 
Like the ethnic minorities, the intellectuals were to have their place in 
the scheme of public acknowledgment. The interest and pleasure of 
the new administration in the ceremonial recognition of culture -was 
less important than its sustained search for talent, which brought the 
place of expertise in American government to a new high. From time 
to time the reputation and recognition of intellect in politics may vary, 
but the demand for expertise seems constantly to rise. The Eisenhower 
regime, for example, despite its expressed disdain for eggheads and its 
pique at their opposition, made considerable strategic use of experts; 
and Republican leaders also showed interest in what they called the 
"utilisation" of friendly academics. The larger question, to which I 
shall return in my final chapter, concerns the relations between ex 
perts who are also intellectuals, of whom there are many, and the 
rest of the intellectual community; and touches upon the condition of 
intellectuals when they find themselves on the fringes of power. One 
of the difficulties in the relation of intellect to power is that certain 
primary functions of intellect are widely felt to be threatened almost 
as much by being associated with power as by being relegated to a 
position of impotence. An acute and paradoxical problem of intellect 
as a force in modern society stems from the fact that it cannot lightly 
reconcile itself either to its association with power or to its exclusion 
from an important political role. 


The Practical Culture 

[ 233 3 


Business and Intellect 


.OR at least three quarters of a century business has been stigma 
tized by most American intellectuals as the classic enemy of intellect; 
businessmen themselves have so long accepted this role that by now 
their enmity seems to be a fact of nature. No doubt there is a certain 
measure of inherent dissonance between business enterprise and intel 
lectual enterprise: being dedicated to different sets of values, they are 
bound to conflict; and intellect is always potentially threatening to 
any institutional apparatus or to fixed centers of power. But this en 
mity, being qualified by a certain mutual dependence, need not take 
the form of constant open warfare. Quite as important as the general 
grounds that make for enmity are the historical circumstances that 
have muted or accentuated it. The circumstances of the industrial 
era in America gave the businessman a position among the foes of 
mind and culture so central and so powerful that other antagonists 
were crowded out of the picture. 

Some years ago the business journalist, John Chamberlain, com 
plained in Fortune that American novelists have consistently done 
rank injustice to American businessmen. In the entire body of modern 
American fiction, he pointed out, the businessman is almost always 
depicted as crass, philistine, corrupt, predatory, domineering, reaction 
ary, and amoral. In a long list of business novels, from Dreiser s 
Cowperwood trilogy to the present, Chamberlain could find only 
three books in which the businessman was favorably portrayed: 
one was by a popular novelist of no consequence; the others were 
William Dean Howells s The Rise of Silas Lapham and Sinclair Lewis s 


Dodstuorth* But the very transiency of these two exceptions confirms 
Chamberlain s complaint. Silas Lapham was written in 1885, before 
novelists and businessmen had become solidly alienated; five years 
later, Howells published A Hazard of New Fortunes, in which one of 
the characteristically saurian businessmen of fiction appears, and he 
later wrote some vaguely socialist social criticism. And it was Sinclair 
Lewis, after all, who in Babbitt gave the world its archetype of the 
small-town, small-business American philistine. 

In the main, Chamberlain remarked, the novelists portrait of the 
businessman is drawn out of doctrine ( "a dry and doctrinaire attitude/* 
he called it) and not out of direct observation of business or out of 
an intimate knowledge of businessmen. The perverse intent sug 
gested by this charge may be largely a creation of Chamberlain s 
fancy. Our society has no unitary elites in which writers and business 
men associate on easy terms; and if real live businessmen fail to appear 
in the American novel, it is partly because the American writer rarely 
appears in the society of businessmen: chances for close observation 
are minimal. The hostility is not one-sided but mutual; and it would be 
an unenviable task to try to show that the businessman lacks the 
instruments of self-defense or retaliation, or that he has not used them. 

But Chamberlain s main point stands: the portrait of the business 
man offered in the social novel in this country conveys the general 
attitude of the intellectual community, which has been at various times 
populistic, progressive, or Marxist, or often some compound of the 
three. Since the development of industrialism after the Civil War, the 
estrangement between businessmen and men of letters has been both 
profound and continuous; and since the rise of Progressivism and the 
New Deal, the tension between businessmen and liberal intellectuals 
in the social sciences has also been acute. In times of prosperity, when 
the intellectual community has not been deeply engaged -with political 
conflict, it is content to portray businessmen as philistines. In times of 
political or economic discontent, the conflict deepens, and the business 
men become ruthless exploiters as well. The values of business and 
intellect are seen as eternally and inevitably at odds: on the one side, 
there is the money-centered or power-centered man, who cares only 
about bigness and the dollar, about boosting and hollow optimism; on 
the other side, there are the men of critical intellect, who distrust 
American civilization and concern themselves with quality and moral 

1 "The Businessman in Fiction," Fortune, Vol. XXXVIH (November, 194 8 )> 
pp. 134-48. 

Business and Intellect 

values. The intellectual is well aware of the elaborate apparatus which 
the businessman uses to mold our civilization to his purposes and 
adapt it to his standards. The businessman is everywhere; he fill* the 
coffers o the political parties; he owns or controls the influential press 
and the agencies of mass culture; he sits on university boards of 
trustees and on local school boards; he mobilizes and finances cultural 
vigilantes; his voice dominates the rooms in which the real decisions 
are made. 

The contemporary businessman, who is disposed to think of himself 
as a man of practical achievement and a national benefactor, shoulder 
ing enormous responsibilities and suffering from the hostility of flighty 
men who have never met a payroll, finds it hard to take seriously the 
notion that he always gets his -way* He sees himself enmeshed in the 
bureaucratic regulations of a welfare state that is certainly no creation 
of his; he feels he is checkmated by powerful unions and regarded 
suspiciously by a public constantly piqued by intellectuals. He may also 
be aware that in former days in the times, say, of Andrew Carnegie 
the great business leader, despite some hostility, was a culture-hero. 
In those days businessmen were prominent national figures in their 
own right, sages to be consulted on almost every aspect of life. But 
since the times of Henry Ford the last of his kind this heroic image 
has gone into eclipse. Businessmen figure in the headlines only -when 
they enter politics or public administration. A man like Charles E. 
Wilson, for example, had ten times as many notices in The New Yorfc 
Times when he was Secretary of Defense in 1953 as he had three 
years earlier as president of General Motors. 2 Bich men may still be 
acceptable in politics John F. Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller, Averell 
Harriman, Herbert Lehman, G. Mermen Williams but these are not 
truly businessmen: they are men of inherited wealth, often conspicu 
ous for their liberal political views. 

At times the businessman may think of himself as having been 
stripped of his prestige by the intellectual and his allies, in a hostile 
environment created by intellectuals. If so, he overestimates the power 
of the intellectuals. In fact, the prestige of the businessman has been 
destroyed largely by his own achievements: it was he who created the 
giant corporation, an impersonal agency that overshadows his reputa 
tion as it disciplines his career; it was his own incessant propaganda 
about the American Way of Life and Free Enterprise that made these 

2 Mabel Newcomer: The Big Business Executive (New York, 1955), p. 7; on the 
declining prestige of executives, see p. 131. 


spongy abstractions into public generalities which soak up and assimi 
late the reputations of individual enterprisers. Once great men cre 
ated fortunes; today a great system creates fortunate men. ~ 

The tension between intellect and business has about it, however, 
a land of ungainly intimacy, symbolized in the fact that so many 
intellectuals are rebelling against the business families in which they 
were reared. An uneasy symbiosis has actually developed between 
business and intellect. In the United States, where government has 
done far less for the arts and learn fng than in Europe, culture has 
always been dependent upon private patronage; it has not been any 
less dependent in recent decades, when the criticism of business has 
been so dominant a concern of intellectuals. The position of the 
critical intellectual is thus a singularly uncomfortable one: in the 
interests of his work and his livelihood he extends one hand for the 
institutional largesse of dead businessmen, the Guggenheims, Car- 
negies, Rockefellers, Fords, and lesser benefactors; but in his concern 
for high principles and values his other hand is often doubled into a 
fist. The freedom of intellect and art is inevitably the freedom to 
criticize and disparage, to destroy and re-create; but the daily neces 
sity of the intellectual and the artist is to be an employee, a protege, 
a beneficiary or a man of business. This ambiguous relationship 
affects businessmen as well. Sensitive of their reputation, fearful and 
resentful of criticism, often arrogant in their power, they can hardly 
help but be aware that the patronage of learning and art will add to 
their repute. To speak less cynically, they are also the heirs of tradi 
tional moral canons of stewardship; they often feel a responsibility to 
do good with their money. And they are not without a certain respect 
for mind; under modern technological conditions, they must, in any 
case, more or less regularly call upon mind for practical counsel. 
Finally, being rather more human than otherwise, they too have a 
natural craving for unbought esteem. 

The anti-intellectualism of businessmen, interpreted narrowly as 
hostility to intellectuals, is mainly a political phenomenon. But inter 
preted more broadly as a suspicion of intellect itself, it is part of the 
extensive American devotion to practicality and direct experience 
which ramifies through almost every area of American life. With some 
variations of details suitable to social classes and historical circum 
stances, the excessive practical bias so often attributed only to business 
is found almost everywhere in America. In itself, a certain wholesome 
regard for the practical needs no defense and deserves no disparage- 

237 Business and Intellect 

ment, so long as it does not aspire to exclusiveness, so long as other 
aspects of human experience are not denigrated and ridiculed, "Prac 
tical vigor is a virtue; what has been spiritually crippling in our history 
is the tendency to make a mystique of practicality." 

If I put business in the vanguard of anti-intellectualism in our culture, 
it is not out of a desire to overstate its role. Certainly the debt of 
American culture to a small number of wealthy men, patrons of learn 
ing and art, is great enough to be thrown immediately into the balance 
as a counterpoise. The main reason for stressing anti-intellectualism in 
business is not that business is demonstrably more anti-intellectual or 
more philistine than other major sections of American society, but 
simply that business is the most powerful and pervasive interest in 
American life. This is true both in the sense that the claims of practi 
cality have been an overweening force in American life and in the 
sense that, since the mid-nineteenth century, businessmen have 
brought to anti-intellectual movements more strength than any other 
force in society. ^This is essentially a business country," said Warren G. 
Harding in 1920, and his -words were echoed by the famous remark of 
Calvin Coolidge: The business of America is business/ 3 It is this 
social preponderance of business, at least before 1929, that gives it a 
claim to special attention. 

One reason for the success of the argument of American business 
against intellect is that it coincides at so many points with the conven 
tional folk wisdom. For example, the feeling about intellect expressed 
in the businessman s statements about higher education and vocational- 
ism was also the popular feeling, as Edward Kirkland has suggested: 
the people constantly voted on the educational system by taking their 
children out of school or by not sending them to college. We need not 
be surprised to find a "radical 5 labor reformer like Henry George ad 
vising his son that since college would fill his head with things which 
would have to be unlearned, he should go directly into newspaper 
work to put himself in touch with the practical world; the same advice 
might have come from a business tycoon. 4 

3 Warren G. Harding: "Business Sense in Government/* Nations Business, 
Vol. VIII (November, 1920), p. 13. Coolidge is quoted, from an address at the 
December, 1923 meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, by Wil 
liam Allen White: A Puritan in Babylon (New York, 1938), p. 253. 
if 4 Edward Kirkland: Dream and Thought in the Business Community, z6o- 
(Ithaca, New York, 1956), pp. 8i-.s, 87. 


f The fear of mind and the disdain for culture, so quicHy evident 
wherever the prior claims of practicality are urged in the literature of 
business, are ubiquitous themes. They rest upon two pervasive Amer 
ican attitudes toward civilization and personal religion first, a widely 
shared contempt for the past; and second, an ethos of self-help and 
personal advancement in which even religious faith becomes merely an 
agency of practicality. , 

Let us look first at the American attitude toward the past, which 
has been so greatly shaped by our technological culture. America, as 
it is commonly said, has been a country -without monuments or ruins 
that is, without those inescapable traces of the ancestral human spirit 
with which all Europeans live and whose meanings, at least in their 
broadest outlines, can hardly be evaded by even the simplest peasant 
or workman. America has been the country of those who fled from the 
past. Its population was selected by migration from among those most 
determined to excise history from their lives. 5 With their minds fixed 
on the future, Americans found themselves surrounded with ample 
land and resources and beset by a shortage of labor and skills. They set 
a premium upon technical knowledge and inventiveness which would 
unlock the riches of the country and open the door to the opulent fu 
ture. Technology, skill everything that is suggested by the significant 
Americanism, "Itnow-how" was in demand. The past was seen as 
despicably impractical and uninventive, simply and solely as some 
thing to be surmounted. It should be acknowledged that the American 
disdain for the past, as it emerged toward the end of the eighteenth 
and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, had some aspects which 
were at the very least defensible and at best distinctly praiseworthy. 
What was at stake was not entirely a technological or materialistic 
barbarianism which aimed merely to slough off all the baggage of his 
tory. Among other things > the American attitude represented a republi 
can and egalitarian protest against monarchy and aristocracy and the 
callous exploitation of the people; it represented a rationalistic protest 
against superstition; an energetic and forward-looking protest against 
the passivity and pessimism of the Old World; it revealed a dynamic, 
vital, and originative mentality. 

5 "It is not indiscriminate masses of Europe/ Emerson thought, "that axe 
shipped hitherward, but the Atlantic is a sieve through which only or chiefly the 
liberal, adventurous, sensitive, America-loving part of each city, clan, family are 
brought. It is the light complexion, the blue eyes of Europe that come: the black 
eyes, the black drop, the Europe of Europe, is left." Journals ( 1851; Boston, River 
side ed., 191*), Vol. VTII, p. 

239 Business and Intellect 

But certainly in its consequences, if not in its intentions, this attitude 
was anti-culturalult stimulated the development of an intellectual style 
in which the past was too often regarded simply as a museum of con 
fusion, corruption, and exploitation; it led to disdain for all contempla 
tion which could not be transformed into practical intelligence and for 
all passion which could not be mobilized for some forward step in 
progress. This view of human affairs lent itself too readily to the 
proposition that the sum and substance of life lies in the business of 
practical improvement; it encouraged the complacent notion that there 
is only one defensible way of life, the American way, and that this 
way had been willfully spurned or abandoned by peoples elsewhere. 6 
Many Americans found the true secret of civilization in the Patent 
Office^ An orator at Yale in 1844 told the undergraduates that they 
could read the future there: 7 

The age of philosophy has passed, and left few memorials of its 
existence. That of glory has vanished, and nothing but a painful 
tradition of human suffering remains. That of utility has com 
menced, and it requires little warmth of imagination to anticipate 
for it a reign lasting as time, and radiant with the wonders of un 
veiled nature. 

Everywhere, as machine industry arose, it drew a line of demarca 
tion between the utilitarian and the traditional. In the main, America 
took its stand with utility, with improvement and invention, money 
and comfor^ It was clearly understood that the advance of the machine 
was destroying old inertias, discomforts, and brutalities, but it was not 
so commonly understood that the machine was creating new dis 
comforts and brutalities, undermining traditions and ideals, sentiments 
and loyalties, esthetic sensitivities i Perhaps the signal difference be 
tween Europe and America on this count is that in Europe there always 
existed a strong counter-tradition, both romantic and moralistic, against 
the ugliness of industrialism a tradition carried on by figures as di- 

6 Cf . Thomas Paine in The Rights of Man; "From the rapid progress which Amer 
ica makes in every species of improvement, it is rational to conclude that, if the 
governments of Asia, Africa, and Europe had begun on a principle similar to that of 
America, or had not been very early corrupted therefrom, those countries rnust by 
this time have been in a far superior condition to what they are/* Writings, ed. by 
Moncure D. Conway ( New York, 1894), Vol. II, p. 402. 

7 Arthur A. Ekirch: The Idea of Progress in America, 2815-1860 (New York, 
1944), p. 126. I am indebted to chapter 4 for its documentation of the American 
faith in technology, though I feel that the author is slightly amiss in speaking of it 
simply as faith in science, for it is largely applied science which is involved. The 
-whole work is iUurninating on the American mentality before the Civil War. 


verse as Goethe and Blake, Morris and Carlyle, Hugo and Chateau 
briand, Rusldn and Scott. Such men counterposed to the machine a 
passion for language and locality, for antiquities and monuments, for 
natural beauty; they sustained a tradition of resistance to capitalist 
industrialism, of skepticism about the human consequences of indus 
trial progress, of moral, esthetic, and humane revolt. 

I do not mean to suggest that there were no American counterparts. 
Some writers did protest against complacent faith in improvement, 
though one senses among them a poignant awareness of their futility 
and isolation, of their opposition to the main stream. Nathaniel Haw 
thorne might complain, as he did in the preface to The Marble Faun, 
of the difficulties of writing in a country "where there is no shadow., 
no antiquity, no mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor any 
thing but a commonplace prosperity, in broad and simple daylight"; 
Herman Melville might warn, as he did in Clarel, of 

Man disennobled brutalized 
By popular science 

and answer scientific progressivism with: "You are but drilling the new 
Hun"; Henry Adams might later view the American scene with ironic 
detachment and detached resignation but none of these men 
imagined himself to be a representative spokesman. Thoreau s Walden 
was, among other things, a statement of humane protest, a vision of the 
dead men, the lost life, buried under the ties of the railroads. He was 
immune to the American passion for the future; he was against the 
national preference for movement, expansion, technology, and utility. 
"The whole enterprise of this nation/* he wrote in i853, 8 

which is not an upward, but a westward one, toward Oregon, 
California, Japan, etc., is totally devoid of interest to me, whether 
performed on foot, or by a Pacific railroad. It is not illustrated by a 
thought, it is not warmed by a sentiment; there is nothing in it 
which one should lay down his life for, nor even his gloves 
hardly which one should take up a newspaper for. It is perfectly 
heathenish a filibustering toward heaven by the great western 
route. No; they may go their way to their manifest destiny, which 
I trust is not mine. 

In a somewhat similar spirit, the conservative classicist and Orientalist, 
Tayler Lewis, objected that America boasted of its individualism while 
8 Writings, (Boston, 1906), Vol. VI, p. aio (February 2,7, 1853). 

Business and Intellect 

encouraging "mediocre sameness" in its utilitarian education. "When 
may we look for less of true originality," he asked, ~than at a time 
when every child is taught to repeat this inane self-laudation, and 
all distinction of individual thought is lost, because no man has room for 
anything else than a barren idea of progress, a contempt for the past, 
and a blinding reverence for an unknown future?" 9 But only a vocifer 
ous minority concurred with these protests. Andrew Carnegie, who 
spoke of "an ignorant past whose chief province is to teach us not 
what to adopt, but what to avoid *; the oil magnate who saw no value 
in having students "poring over musty dead languages, learning the 
disgusting stories of the mythical gods, and all the barbarous stuff of 
the dead past"; James A. Garfield, who did not want to encourage 
American youth to "f eed their spirits on the life of dead ages, instead of 
the inspiring life and vigor of our own times"; Henry Ford, who told 
an interviewer that "history is more or less bunk. It s tradition" 
such men were in the main stream. 1 

When a representative American voice is raised, there is a good 
chance that sooner or later this feeling of condescension toward the ma- 
chineless past, this note of hope in technological progress will assert 
itself. Mark Twain, whose voice is one of the most authentic of all, is 
a case in point. Many years ago, in a memorable passage in his brilliant 
book, The Ordeal of Mark Twain., Van Wyck Brooks reproached 
Mark Twain because "his enthusiasm for literature was as nothing 
beside his enthusiasm for machinery: he had fully accepted the illusion 
of his contemporaries that the progress of machinery was identical 
with the progress of humanity." Quoting Twain s raptures on the 
Paige typesetting machine, which the writer considered superior to 
anything else produced by the human brain, Brooks went on to cite 
the perversity of Twain s letter to Whitman on the poet s seventieth 
birthday, in which the author congratulated Whitman for having lived 
in an age of manifold material benefactions, including "the amazing, 
infinitely varied and innumerable products of coal-tar," but neglected 
to recognize that the age was remarkable also for having produced 
Walt Whitman. 2 

In this, as in so many of his other perceptions about Mark Twain, 

9 Ekirch: op. cit., p. 175. 

1 Kirkland: op. cit., pp. 86, 106; Irvin G. Wyllie: The Self-Made Man in 
America (New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1954), p. 104. Ford s explanation of his 
remark was an illuminating one: **I did not say it was bunk. It was bunk to me, , . . 
I did not need it very bad." Allan Nevins: Ford: Expansion and Challenge, 1915 

33 (New York, 1957) 9 p- 138. 

2 The Ordeal of Mark Twain (New York, 1920), pp. 146-7. 


Brooks seems essentially right. But the letter would not have seemed so 
exceptionable to Whitman himself. More than thirty years earlier, 
Whitman had written, in very much the same vein: 3 

Think of the numberless contrivances and inventions for our 
comfort and luxury which the last half dozen years have brought 
forth of our baths and ice houses and ice coolers of our fly traps 
and mosquito nets of house bells and marble mantels and sliding 
tables of patent ink-stands and baby jumpers of serving ma 
chines and street-sweeping machines in a word give but a pass 
ing glance at the fat volumes of Patent Office Reports and bless 
your star that fate has cast your lot in the year of our Lord 1857. 

Mark Twain is especially interesting in this because he refracted 
with extraordinary fidelity the concerns of the technocratic mind. I say 
refracted, not embodied, because he was too much a moralist and a 
pessimist to imagine that mechanical progress was an all-sufficient 
end. He was a man of contradictions, and few men have more pas 
sionately embraced the values of business industrialism and at the 
same time more contemptuously rejected them. His most extended 
commentary on technical progress, A Connecticut Yankee in King 
Arthur s Court, juxtaposes a nineteenth-century technical Yankee mind 
with a sixth-century society to satirize both civilizations. The moral 
burden of this tale is that human rascality and credulity will prevail 
even over mechanical progress; but within the dialectic of the story 
all the advantages lie with the Connecticut Yankee, who establishes a 
benevolent dictatorship on the strength of his command of steam 
power and electricity. "The very first official thing I did, in my ad 
ministration and it was on the very first day of it, too was to start a 
patent office; for I knew that a country without a patent office and 
good patent laws was just a crab, and couldn t travel any way but 
sideways or backways." 4 Of course, Twain was somewhat ambivalent 
about his Yankee hero; although he may have been, as Henry James 
tartly remarked, a writer for rudimentary minds, he was not so rudi 
mentary as to be unaware of at least some of the limitations of the 
industrial tinkerer. 5 None the less, it is the Connecticut Yankee who 

3 Emory Holloway and Vernolian Schwarz, eds.: I Sit and Look Out: Edi 
torials from the Brooklyn Daily Times (New York, 1932), p. 133. 

4 A Connecticut Yankee ( 1889; Pocket Book ed., 1948 ) , p. 56. 

* Speaking to Dan Beard about the illustrations for the book, he said: "You know, 
this Yankee of mine has neither the refinement nor the weakness o a college educa 
tion; he is a perfect ignoramus; he is boss of a machine shop; he can build a locomo- 

243 Business and Intellect 

enjoys mental and moral superiority and with whom we are expected 
to sympathize. Mark Twain s national amour-propre was engaged in 
the book he wrote Ms British publisher that the work was written 
not for America but for England; that it was an answer to English 
criticisms of America (particularly, though he did not say so, to those 
of Matthew Arnold), an attempt to "pry up the English nation to a 
little higher level of manhood/ Such intentions as he may have had 
to satirize mankind in general and, more particularly, Yankee in 
dustrialism were in effect swallowed up in this impulse to justify what 
later came to be called the American way of life. Despite a few side 
swipes at modern American abuses, the book is mainly a response to 
Europe and the past, to a society characterized entirely by squalor, 
superstition, cruelty, ignorance, and exploitation. If it was Mark 
Twain s intention to be equally satirical about sixth-century and nine- 
teenth-century society, his execution was at fault. But it is easier to 
believe that his animus ran mostly in one direction; this interpretation 
accords better with his raptures over the Paige machine, which he 
hoped would make millions but on which he lost thousands. It accords 
better with the tone of The Innocents Abroad, in which the author 
confessed that he cared more for the railroads, depots, and turnpikes 
of Europe than for all the art in Italy, "because I can understand the 
one and am not competent to appreciate the other." 6 It may help, 
too, to illuminate one aspect of the long, anticlimactic sequence near 
the end of Huckleberry Finn, in which Tom Sawyer, enamored of the 
outworn heroics of European romances, insists that Nigger Jim be 
rescued from captivity by what he conceives to be the only proper 
method, with all its cumbersome rituals, and overrules Huck Finn s 
untutored common- sense proposals. This extravagant burlesque has 
been much condemned as a distraction from the fundamental moral 
drama of the book, but for Mark Twain it had a vital importance* Tom 
Sawyer represents the impracticality of traditional culture, and Huck 
stands for the native American gift for coming to grips with reality. 

Mark Twain gave voice to what was undoubtedly a widespread Amer 
ican ambivalence. Its main tenet was a robust faith in the patent 

tive or a Colt s revolver, He can put up and run a telegraph line, but he s an igno 
ramus, nevertheless." Gladys Carmen Bellamy: Mark Twain as a Literary Artist 
(Norman, Oklahoma, 1950), p. 314* 

6 The Innocents Abroad ( 1869; New York ed., 1906), pp. 


office and the future; but a great many Americans, along with Mark 
Twain, also felt a certain respectful and wistful regard for the genteel 
culture that flourished largely in the East. (Clemens s own desire to 
"make good" with this culture and yet somehow to flout it led to one 
of the most painful, confrontations in all our history the terrible fiasco 
of his Whittier birthday speech. ) This culture had its limitations, but 
during the greater part of Mark Twain s life, it was the only high cul 
ture the country knew. To a considerable degree, it leaned upon the 
support of a commercial class. 

In the absence of either a strong hereditary aristocracy or state 
patronage, the condition of art and learning in America was dependent 
upon commercial wealth, and on this account the personal culture of 
the American business class was always a matter of special importance 
to intellectual life. From the beginning, America was, of necessity, a 
work-bound society, but even in the middle of the eighteenth century a 
material basis for art and learning had been created in the seaboard 
towns, and foundations had been laid for a kind of mercantile society 
with an interest in culture. As early as 1743 Benjamin Franklin, out 
lining a plan for intercolonial co-operation in promoting science, ob 
served: "The first drudgery of settling new colonies which confines the 
attention of people to mere necessaries is now pretty well over; and 
there are many in every province in circumstances that set them at 
ease, and afford leisure to cultivate the finer arts and improve the 
common stock of knowledge/* 7 In the coastal towns, which were even 
then among the largest in the British empire, the mercantile and 
professional class was seriously interested in the advancement of learn 
ing, science, and the arts, and it was this class that established a model 
for patronage in the New World. 

The backbone of this class was mercantile wealth wealth, it is 
important to say, in the hands of men who did not invariably consider 
the pursuit of business and the accumulation of money an all-sufficient 
end in life. By some businessmen business is considered to be a way of 
life; by others, a way to life, a single side of a many-sided existence, 
possibly only a means to such an existence. Among the latter, retire 
ment after the accumulation of a substantial fortune is at least a con 
ceivable goal. Andrew Carnegie, an exceptional man among his genera 
tion of millionaires, gave lip service to this ideal, even though he did 

7 Smyth, ed.: Writings (New York, 1905-07), Vol. II, p. 2.28. 

Business and Intellect 

not quite live up to it. At thirty-three, when he was making $50,000 
a year, he wrote: s 

To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and 
with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more 
money in the shortest time, must degrade me beyond the hope 
of permanent recovery. I will resign business at thirty-five. 

Severely business-minded men, to whom this would have made no 
sense, have always existed in America. But the ideal that Carnegie was 
expressing did have considerable power. The old-fashioned merchant 
in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or Charleston was a versatile and 
often a cosmopolitan man. Mercantile contacts with Europe and the 
Orient led his mind outward. The slow pace of business transactions 
in the days of the sailing ship, which was so soon speeded up by the 
increasing rapidity of mid-nineteenth century communication, made 
the successful pursuit of business consistent with a life of dignified 
leisure. In the relatively stratified society of the late eighteenth cen 
tury a significant proportion of the upper business classes were men of 
inherited wealth and position, who brought to their mercantile roles 
the advantages of breeding, leisure, and education. Moreover, eight 
eenth-century merchants were often actively involved in politics; their 
concerns with officeholding, legislating, and administering, as well as 
business, made for versatility in action and a reflective turn in thought. 
The early nineteenth century inherited this ideal of the man of 
business as a civilized man and a civilizing agent. Spokesmen of this 
ideal did not feel any inconsistency in preaching at the same time the 
Puritan values of dedication to work, frugality, and sobriety, and the 
gentlemanly ideals of leisure, culture, and versatility. This view o life 
is expressed in the columns of the leading mercantile journal, Hunt s 
Merchants 9 Magazine. 9 Its publisher and editor, Freeman Hunt, the 

8 Burton J. Hendrick: The Life of Andrew Carnegie (New York, 1932), Vol. I, 
pp. 146-7. Compare with this the surprise frequently expressed by American busi 
nessmen at their European counterparts who hope to accumulate enough to retire 
as soon as possible. Francis X. Sutton, et al. : The American Business Creed ( Cam 
bridge, Mass., 1956), p. 102. 

9 On examining the sketches of businessmen collected in Freeman Hunt s Worth 
and Wealth: A Collection of Maxims, Morals,, and Miscellanies for Merchants and 
Men of Business (New York, 1856), I have been struck by the breadth of qualities 
sought for in the good merchant, and by the coexistence of three constellations of 
virtues. The first are the classic Puritan virtues, having to do with the development 
and discipline of the individual, and expressed in such terms as ambitious, frugal, 
economical, industrious, persevering, disciplined, provident, diligent, simple. The 


son of a Massachusetts shipbuilder, had come to his business, like so 
many other nineteenth-century publishers, from the printer s trade, 
He combined in his person the intellectualism and mercantile in 
heritance of New England with the practical experience of the self- 
made man; his father s death when Hunt was still a child had made it 
necessary for "him to find his own way. The opening issue of Hunt s 
monthly journal in 1839 portrayed commerce as a high vocation that 
elevates the mind, enlarges the understanding, and adds "to the store 
house of general knowledge/ "One of our prominent objects," he 
wrote, "will be, to raise and elevate the commercial character." He 
stressed the importance of "probity, and that high sense of honor, 
wanting which, however abounding in everything else, a man may 
assume the name, and be totally deficient in all that forms the high 
and honorable merchant." Commerce, too, was "a profession embracing 
and requiring more varied knowledge, and general information of the 
soil, climate, production, and consumption of other countries of 
the history, political complexion, laws, languages, and customs of the 
world than is necessary in any other. . . ." He took upon himself 
the duty of maintaining the intellectual and moral level of the trade. 
Wherever the minds of the young are to be formed [to take the places 
of the old merchants] they will find us ... doing all in our power to 
aid the incipient merchant in his high and honorable avocation." 1 
One of his books was significantly entitled Wealth and Worth. Later 
writers frequently reiterated the idea that "commerce and civilization 
go hand in hand." For many years Hunt s magazine ran an extensive 
"literary department * in which books of general intellectual interest 

second are the mercantile-aristocratic virtues, having to do with the elevation of 
business and society, and expressed in such terms as upright, generous, noble, 
civilizing, humane, benevolent, veracious, responsible, liberal, suave, gentlemanly, 
moderate. The third might be considered categorically good attributes for almost 
any undertaking: clear, explicit, decisive, careful, attentive, lively, -firm. 

^The Merchants 9 Magazine and Commercial Review, Vol. I (July, 1839), pp. 
1-3; between 1850 and 1860 the title of the periodical was changed to Hunt s 
Merchants Magazine. For further passages of interest, see Vol. I, pp. 2,00 2,, 
289-302, 30314, 399 4!3- Jerome Thomases, writing on "Freeman Hunt s Amer 
ica," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. XXX (December, 1943), pp. 395- 
407, attempts to assess the influence of the magazine, which was considerable. He 
touches on the theme I have emphasized, but also points out how much the maga 
zine preached the principles of work, practicality, and self-reliance. It seems a 
significant token of the extent to which the image of the merchant had established 
itself as an ideal among businessmen that in New York, by 1850, "bankers, capi 
talists, brokers, commercial lawyers, railroad speculators, and manufacturers re 
ferred to themselves as merchants." Philip S. Foner: Business and Slavery ( Chapel 
Hill, 1941 ), p. viL 

247 Business and Intellect 

were discussed. Lectures delivered under the auspices of the New 
York Mercantile Library Association were reported. A clergyman s 
article on "Leisure Its Uses and Abuses" was considered important 
enough to publish. An article on "Advantages and Benefits of Com 
merce" pointed out that "in every nation whose commerce has been 
cultivated upon great and enlightened principles, a considerable pro 
ficiency has been made in liberal studies and pursuits." What is essen 
tial here is that the role of the merchant was justified not solely on the 
ground that he is materially useful, nor even on the honor and probity 
-with which he pursues his vocation, but also because he is an agent of a 
more general culture that lies outside business itself. 2 

The old mercantile ideal, with its imposing set of practical, moral, 
and cultural obligations, may seem to have been difficult to live up to, 
but enough men, especially in the large seaboard towns, were capable 
of living up to it to keep it alive and real. One thinks, for example, of 
the immensely wealthy and powerful Appleton brothers of Boston, 
Samuel (1776-1853) and Nathan (1779-1861). Samuel, who was 
active in politics as well as business, chose to retire from business at 
sixty, and to devote the rest of his life to philanthropy. He patronized 
colleges and academies, learned societies, hospitals, and museums with 
an open hand. His brother Nathan, who was actively interested in 
science, politics, and theology, was helpful to the Boston Athenaeum, 
the Massachusetts Historical Society, and other cultural organizations; 
he once said that the $200,000 he had made in trade would have 
satisfied him had he not gone into the cotton industry by chance. The 
grandfather of Henry and Brooks Adams, Peter Chardon Brooks 
(1767-1849), whose three daughters married Edward Everett, Na 
thaniel Frothingham, and the elder Charles Francis Adams, was suffi 
ciently detached from trade to retire at thirty-six (he returned to it 
for a few years later on) and devote his time to public offices, philan 
thropy, and the political careers o two of his sons-in-law. Men like 
these, though assiduous in business, were capable of detaching them 
selves from it. The ideal o civilized accomplishment never ceased to 
glimmer in their minds. Emerson s eloquent tribute to John Murray 

2 Sigmund Diamond has observed that the early nineteenth-century entre 
preneur was commonly judged by society on the basis of the personal use he made 
of his wealth, whether philanthropic or economic. In the twentieth century it be 
came more common to look at business enterprise as a system, and not to judge it by 

its philanthropic by-products. The Reputation of the American Businessman (Cam 
bridge, Mass., 1955), PP. 178- 


Forbes (18131898), the versatile and cultivated merchant and rail 
road entrepreneur, is a token of the rapprochement that was possible 
between intellectuals and the best representatives of the mercantile 
ideal: 3 

Wherever he moved he was the benefactor. It is of course that 
he should ride well, shoot well, sail well, keep house well, ad 
minister affairs "well; but he was the best talker, also, in the com 
pany. . . . Yet I said to myself, How little this man suspects, with 
his sympathy for men and his respect for lettered and scientific 
people, that he is not likely, in any company, to meet a man 
superior to himself. And I think this is a good country, that can 
bear such a creature as he is. 

In New York the pre-eminent example of the mercantile ideal was 
the famous diarist, Philip Hone ( 1780-1851 ) . Hone s experience shows 
how capable a well-knit local aristocracy was of absorbing a gifted 
newcomer, for no one lived more fully the life of the civilized merchant 
than thfs parvenu, who began life as the son of a joiner of limited 
means. At nineteen Hone went into an importing business with an 
older brother. At forty he retired with a fortune of half a million and 
went off upon a grand tour of Europe. Hone had had no schooling 
beyond the age of sixteen, but unlike the typical self-made man he did 
not make a virtue of the circumstance. "I am sensible of my deficiency/* 
he wrote in 1832, "and would give half I possess in the -world to enjoy 
the advantages of a classical education." 4 But in his case the lack of 
formal education was balanced by an enormous appetite for experi 
ence. Over the years he collected an extensive library and read widely 
and intelligently, acquired a small but good collection of works of art, 
became a patron of the opera and the theater, a preceptor of New 
York society, a trustee of Columbia, and a sponsor of innumerable 
philanthropies. His home became a meeting-place for writers, actors, 
and diplomats, as well as leading politicians. He was active in politics; 
he served as assistant alderman and for one brief term as mayor of New- 
York, and played a significant role as the host and counselor of Whigs 
like Webster, Clay, and Seward. His culture, like that of many men 
of his kind, may have been rather derivative and genteel; but, without 

3 Letters and Social Aims (Riverside ed.), p. ^01. There are many interesting 
sidelights on Forbes in Thomas C. Cochran: Railroad Leaders, 2845-3:890 (Cam 
bridge, Mass., 1953). 

4 Quoted by Allan Nevins in the Introduction to The Diary of Philip Hone 
(New York, 1936), p. x. 

Business and Intellect 

the patronage and interest of such men, American cultural and intel 
lectual life would have been considerably impoverished. 

* 4 

The lives of merchants like Forbes and Hone may be taken to discount 
the statement of Tocqueville that "there is no class ... in America 
in which the taste for intellectual pleasures is transmitted with heredi 
tary fortune and leisure, and by which the labors of the intellect are 
held in honor/* 5 But for Tocqueville the word "hereditary" was no 
doubt vital; and it was a matter of consequence that the Hones and the 
Forbeses were in the main unable to propagate their social type. This 
had begun to be evident even by the third decade of the nineteenth 
century, -when Tocqueville visited the United States and wrote his 
great commentary; it became increasingly evident in the subsequent 
decades. With the relative decline in the importance of commerce and 
the rise in manufacturing, a smaller part of the business community 
-was exposed to the enlarging, cosmopolitan efiFects of overseas trade. 
The American economy and the American mind began to face inward 
and to become more self-contained. With the rapid inland spread of 
business into the trans- Allegheny region and the Middle West, cultural 
institutions and leisured habits of mind were left behind. Men and ma 
terials could move faster than institutions and culture. The breakdown 
of class barriers and the opening of new business opportunities for the 
common man meant that the ranks of business and society were filling 
with parvenus, whose tastes and habits tended increasingly to domi 
nate society. In earlier days, especially in the seaboard cities, estab 
lished local aristocracies had been strong enough to absorb and mold 
and train parvenus like Hone. In the new cities of the interior, which 
had been wilderness when thriving cultures were centered in Boston, 
New York, and Philadelphia, the new men and the descendants of 
aristocracy mingled on even terms; and in many of them it was the 
parvenus who leveled the gentlemen down. Of course, some of the 
inland towns, such as Cincinnati and Lexington, managed in their own 
way to become cultural centers, but their efforts were relatively feeble. 
In inland society the newly successful businessmen had less need or 
opportunity to temper themselves and to elevate their children through 
marriage into an established professional and business aristocracy such 
as one found in Boston. Everything was new and raw. 
5 Democracy in America, ( 1835; New York, 1898), Vol. I, p. 66. 


It was not only new and raw, but increasingly unstable and hazard 
ous. Even such a man as Hone was hurt by the instability of the 
times. In the 1830*8 he lost perhaps as much as two-thirds o his 
fortune, and after his reverses drove him back into business, he "was 
unable to repeat his earlier successes. Fortunes were easily made and 
unmade in the uncommonly speculative ethos of American business. 
The pace of transactions was stepped up; business became increasingly 
specialized. The between-times leisure often possible in the past for 
importers whose business was attuned to the pace of Atlantic crossings 
did not exist for men faced with new threats or new opportunities at 
almost every turning. Business needed more tending. Men of business 
"withdrew, to some degree, from their previous direct involvement in 
politics as officeholders, and to a much greater degree from cultural 
life. In 1859 Thomas Colley Grattan, a British traveler, observed of 
young American businessmen: 6 

They follow business like drudges, and politics with fierce ardour. 
They marry. They renounce party-going. They give up all preten 
sion in dress. They cannot force wrinkles and crow s feet on their 
faces, but they assume and soon acquire a pursed-up, keen, and 
haggard look. Their air, manners, and conversation are alike con 
tracted. They have no breadth, either of shoulders, information, 
or ambition. Their physical powers are subdued, and their mental 
capability cribbed into narrow limits. There is constant activity 
going on in one small portion of the brain; all the rest is stagnant. 
The money-making faculty is alone cultivated. They are incapable 
of acquiring general knowledge on a broad or liberal scale. All is 
confined to trade, finance, law, and small, local provincial infor 
mation. Art, science, literature, are nearly dead letters to them. 

At the same time, the cultural tone of business publications fell 
off. Hunt s magazine, whose literary department had been fairly con 
spicuous and serious, allowed this feature to dwindle. During and 
after 1849, the book reviews that had once taken about eight pages in 
each issue shrank to four or five, then to two and a half pages of per 
functory notices, and finally disappeared altogether from the penul 
timate volume in 1870. At the end of that year the magazine itself 
was merged with the Commercial and Financial Chronicle. Hunt s 
Merchants 9 Magazine had been a monthly; its successor was a weekly. 

6 Civilized America (London, 1859), Vol. II, p. 3^0; see, however, the writer s 
misgivings, expressed in the same passage. 

Business and Intellect 

The increasing speed of business communication, the publishers ex 
plained in the last issue of the older journal, had made that kind of 
business monthly out of date. 7 Its successor was also intelligently 
edited, but such nods as it gave to literature were few and far be 

The more thoroughly business dominated American society, the less 
it felt the need to justify its existence by reference to values outside 
its own domain. In earlier days it had looked for sanction in the claim 
that the vigorous pursuit of trade served God, and later that it served 
character and culture. Although this argument did not disappear, it 
grew less conspicuous in the business rationale. As business became 
the dominant motif in American life and as a vast material empire rose 
in the New World, business increasingly looked for legitimation in a 
purely material and internal criterion the wealth it produced. Amer 
ican business, once defended on the ground that it produced a high 
standard of culture, was now defended mainly on the ground that it 
produced a high standard of living. 8 Few businessmen would have 
hesitated to say that the advancement of material prosperity, if not 

7 Hunt s Merchants Magazine, Vol. LXIII, pp. 4013. A cultural history of the 
business magazines might be illuminating. The first article in the first issue of Hunt s 
Merchants Magazine was entitled "Commerce as Connected with the Progress of 
Civilization," Vol. I (July, 1839), pp. 3-20; it was written by Daniel D. Barnard, 
an Albany lawyer and politician -who also wrote historical brochures and who later 
became minister to Prussia. Barnard s essay dwelt on "the humanizing advantages 
of a growing and extended commerce/ Cf. Philip Hone: "Commerce and Com 
mercial Character," Vol. IV (February, 1841), pp. 129-46. Another writer in the 
opening volume, to be sure, made note of "an opinion [that] very generally pre 
vails among the mercantile classes of the present day, that commerce and literature 
are at war with each other; that he who is engaged in the pursuit of the one must 
entirely abandon the pursuit of the other/ This writer announced his intention to 
confute this view and his confidence that "more liberal views . . . are fast growing 
upon the public mind." "Commerce and Literature/* Vol. I (December, 1839), p. 
537- This confidence seems hardly justified by the trend in the cultural fare of 
Hunt s itself, which grew thinner during the 1850*3. One must, no doubt, be care 
ful not to assume too readily from such evidence that the cultural interests of busi 
nessmen were declining. What does seem to be true, however, is that for these men, 
in their character as businessmen, cultural interests no longer seemed so vital; nor 
did it seem any longer so important to vindicate business by reference to its civiliz 
ing influence. 

8 Francis X. Sutton, et aL, in their study of The American Business Creed find 
material productivity a dominant theme; see chapter 2, and pp. 2556. In so far as 
non-material values are advanced by business, they are the values of "service," 
personal opportunity, and political and economic freedom. Some businessmen are 
disposed to argue that success is sufficient justification for more or less complete 
neglect of "self-improvement/* Ibid., p. 276. Small businessmen, though expressing 
a special proprietorship in freedom and democracy, along with a resentment of big 
business, seem to have absorbed the general business emphasis on material produc 
tivity as a central vindication. See John H. Bunzel: The American Smatt Business 
man ( New York, 1962 ) , chapter 3. 


itself a land of moral ideal, was at least the presupposition of all other 
moral ideals. In 1888 the railroad executive, Charles Elliott Perkins, 
asked: 9 

Have not great merchants, great manufacturers, great inventors, 
done more for the world than preachers and philanthropists? . - . 
Can there be any doubt that cheapening the cost of necessaries 
and conveniences of life is the most powerful agent of civilization 
and progress? Does not the fact that well-fed and well-warmed 
men make better citizens, other things being equal, than those 
who are cold and hungry, answer the question? Poverty is the 
cause of most of the crime and misery in the world cheapening 
the cost of the necessaries and conveniences of life is lessening 
poverty, and there is no other way to lessen it, absolutely none. 
History and experience demonstrate that as wealth has accumu 
lated and things have cheapened, men have improved ... in 
their habits of thought, their sympathy for others, their ideas of 
justice as well as of mercy. . . . Material progress must come first 
and . . . upon it is founded all other progress. 

Almost a century and a half after Franklin had considered the material 
foundations of cultural progress to have been established, the necessity 
of the material prerequisites was thus being asserted with greater 
confidence than ever. 

9 Edward C. Kirldand: Dream and Thought in the Business Community., 1860 
1900, p. 1645. This conservative economic materialism has its curious parallel to 
day in the thought of radical apologists for dictatorships in backward countries. Let 
poverty, misery, and illiteracy be conquered, it is held, and the goods of political 
freedom and cultural development will follow soon enough. This argument was 
commonly invoked in defense of the Soviet Union in the Stalinist period, and one 
hears it again today from apologists for Fidel Castro and others. 

[ 2,53 ] 

and Spiritual Technology 


. s THE mercantile ideal declined, it was replaced by the ideal of 
the self-made man, an ideal which reflected the experiences and 
aspirations of countless village boys who had become, if not million 
aires, at least substantial men of business. Modern students of social 
mobility have made it incontestably clear that the legendary American 
rags-to-riches story, despite the spectacular instances that adorn our 
business annals, was more important as a myth and a symbol than as a 
statistical actuality. 1 The topmost positions in American industry, even 
in the most hectic days of nineteenth-century expansion, were held for 
the most part by men who had begun life with decided advantages. 
But there were enough self-made men, and their rise was dramatic 
and appealing enough, to give substance to the myth. And, quite aside 
from the topmost positions, there were intermediate positions, repre 
senting success of a substantial kind; only a few could realistically 
hope to be a Vanderbilt or a Rockefeller, but many could in a 
smaller way imitate their success. If life was not a movement from rags 
to riches, it could at least be from rags to respectability; and the 
horizons of experience were scanned eagerly for clues as to how this 
transformation could be accomplished. 

-, 1 For a summary and evaluation of the now considerable literature on social 
mobility in American history, see Bernard Barber : Social Stratification ( New York, 
1957), chapter 16; Joseph A. Kahl: The American Class Structure (New York, 
1957), chapter 9; Seymour M. Lipset and Reinhard Bendix: Social Mobility in 
Industrial Society (Berkeley, 1959), chapter 3. 


Moreover, if the self-made men of America were not self-made in 
the sense that most of them had started in poverty, they were largely 
self-made in that their business successes were achieved without the 
benefits of formal learning or careful breeding. Ideally, the self-made 
man is one -whose success does not depend on formal education and 
for whom personal culture, other than in his business character, is 
unimportant. By mid-century, men of this sort had come so clearly to 
dominate the American scene that their way of life cried out for 
spokesmen. Timothy Shay Arthur, the Philadelphia scribbler who is 
best known to history as the author of Ten Nights in a Barroom and 
What I Saiv There, but who was also well known in his day as a moral 
ist and self-help writer, pointed out in 1856 that "in this country, the 
most prominent and efficient men are not those who \vere born to 
wealth and eminent social positions, but those who have won both 
by the force of untiring personal energy." To them, Arthur insisted, 
the country was indebted for its prosperity. 2 

Invaluable, therefore, are the lives of such men to the rising 
generation. . . . Hitherto, American Biography has confined itself 
too closely to men who have won political or literary distinction. 
. . . Limited to the perusal of such biographies, our youth must, of 
necessity, receive erroneous impressions of the true construction 
of our society, and fail to perceive wherein the progressive vigor of 
the nation lies. . . . We want the histories of our self-made man 
spread out before us, that we may know the ways by which, they 
came up from the ranks of the people. 

The idea of the self-made man -was not new. It was a historical out 
growth of Puritan preachings and of the Protestant doctrine of the 
calling. Benjamin Franklin had preached it, but it is significant that 
his own later life was not lived in accordance with his catchpenny 
maxims. After making a modest fortune, he was absorbed into the 
intellectual and social life of Philadelphia, London, and Paris, and 
interested himself more in politics, diplomacy, and science than in 
business. The self-made man as a characteristic American type became 
a conspicuous figure early in the nineteenth century. Apparently the 

2 Quoted in Freeman Hunt: Worth and Wealth (New York, 1856), pp. 3501. 
Only a few years earlier the London Daily News remarked: "It is time that the 
millionaire should cease to be ashamed of having made his own fortune. It is time 
that parvenu should be looked on as a word of honor." Sigmund Diamond: The 
Reputation of the American Businessman ( Cambridge, Mass., 1955), p. 2. 

255 Self-Help and Spiritual Technology 

term was first used by Henry Clay in 1832, in a Senate speech on a 
protective tariff. Denying that the tariff would give rise to a hereditary 
industrial aristocracy, he maintained, to the contrary, that nothing 
could be more democratic; it would give further opportunities for men 
to rise from obscurity to affluence. "In Kentucky, almost every manu 
factory known to me is in the hands of enterprising and self-made men, 
who have acquired whatever wealth they possess by patient and 
diligent labor." 3 By the time of Clay s death thirty years later, the 
type was more than recognizable, it was spiritually dominant. 

I say spiritually without ironic intent. Irvin G Wyllie, in his il 
luminating study, The Self-Made Man in America,, points out that the 
literature of self-help was not a literature of business methods or tech 
niques; it did not deal with production, accounting, engineering, ad 
vertising, or investments; it dealt with the development of character, 
and nowhere were its Protestant origins more manifest- Not surpris 
ingly, clergymen were prominent among the self-help writers, and 
especially Congregational clergymen. 4 Self-help was discipline in char 
acter. The self-help literature told how to marshal the resources of the 
tvill how to cultivate the habits of frugality and hard work and the 
virtues of perseverance and sobriety. The writers of self-help books 
imagined that poverty in early life was actually a kind of asset, be 
cause its discipline helped to produce the type of character that 
would succeed. 

The conception of character advocated by the self-help writers and 
the self-made men explicitly excluded what they loosely called genius. 
No doubt there was a certain underlying ambivalence in this who 
does not desire or envy "genius"? But the prevailing assumption in the 
self-help literature was that character was necessary and remarkable 
talents were not; still more, that those who began by having such 
talents would lack the incentive or the ability to develop character. 
The average man, by intensifying his good qualities, by applying com 
mon sense to a high degree, could have the equivalent of genius, 
or something much better. "There is no genius required," said one 
New York merchant. "And if there were, some great men have said 
that genius is no more than common-sense intensified." Reliance on 
outstanding gifts would lead to laziness and lack of discipline or re 
sponsibility. "Genius" was vain and frivolous. Speaking on this subject 

3 Daniel Mallory, ed.: The Life and Speeches of the Hon. Henry Clay (New 
York, 1844) , Vol. II, p. 31- 

4 Wyllie: The Self -Made Man in America (New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1954), 
chapters 3 and 4. 


to an audience of young men in 1844, Henry Ward Beecher re 
marked: 5 

So far as my observations have ascertained the species, they 
abound in academies, colleges, and Thespian societies; in village 
debating clubs; in coteries of young artists and young professional 
aspirants. They are to be known by a reserved air, excessive sensi 
tiveness, and utter indolence; by very long hair, and very open 
shirt collars; by the reading of much wretched poetry, and the 
writing of much, yet more wretched; by being very conceited, 
very affected, very disagreeable, and very useless: beings whom 
no man wants for friend, pupil, or companion. 

Through the decades, this suspicion of genius or brilliance rooted 
itself into the canons of business. Eighty years after Beecher s char 
acterization of genius, an article appeared in the American Magazine 
under the title, "Why I Never Hire Brilliant Men." The writer identi 
fied brilliance in business with mercurial temperament, neuroticism, 
and irresponsibility; his experience as an entrepreneur with men of 
this type had been disastrous. "Even fine material, carelessly put to 
gether, will not make a fine shoe," he remarked. "But if material which 
is of just average quality is fashioned with special care and attention, 
It will result in a quite superior article/ "So I took most of my raw- 
material from our delivery wagons, or other places right at hand. 
Out of this hard-muscled, hard-headed stuff I have built a business 
that has made me rich according to the standards of our locality." 
Somewhat defensively, the writer anticipated that he might be con 
sidered simply a mediocre man without the capacity to appreciate 
anyone better than himself. This judgment might well be justified, he 
said candidly, 6 

for I am mediocre. But . . . business and life are built upon suc 
cessful mediocrity; and victory comes to companies not through 
the employment of brilliant men, but through knowing how to get 
the most out of ordinary folks. . . . 

I am sorry to forego the company of [brilliant] men in my rather 
dingy building here in the wholesale grocery district. But I comfort 
myself with the thought that Cromwell built the finest army in 
Europe out of dull but enthusiastic yeomen; and that the greatest 

5 Ibid., pp. 35-6- 

6 Anon.: "Why I Never Hire Brilliant Men/* American Magazine, Vol. XCVH 
(February, 19^4), pp. 12, 1x8, 

2,57 Self -Help and Spiritual Technology 

organization in Imman history was twelve humble men, picked up 
along the shores of an inland lake. 

With all this there went a persistent hostility to formal education 
and a countervailing cult of experience. The canons of the cult of 
experience required that the ambitious young man be exposed at the 
earliest possible moment to what one writer called "the discipline of 
daily life that comes with drudgery. 7 Formal schooling, especially if 
prolonged, would only delay such exposure. The lumber magnate, 
Frederick Weyerhaeuser, concluded that the college man was "apt 
to think that because he is a college graduate he ought not be obliged 
to commence at the bottom of the ladder and work up, as the office 
boy does who enters the office when he is fourteen years of age." 7 
It must be said that here the writers of self-help books disagreed with 
the businessmen: they usually advised more formal schooling, but 
this part of their prescription was not convincing to the self-made man 
of business. In the ranks of business, opinion on free common schools 
was divided between those who felt that such schools would create a 
more efficient and disciplined working class and those who balked 
at taxes or believed that education would only make workers dis 
contented. 8 

On two matters there was almost no disagreement: education should 
be more "practical"; and higher education, as least as it -was conceived 
in the old-time American classical college, was useless as a back 
ground for business. Business waged a long, and on the whole success 
ful, campaign for vocational and trade education at the high-school 
level and did much to undermine the high school as a center of liberal 
education. The position of the Massachusetts wool manufacturer who 
said that he preferred workers with only a common-school education, 
since he considered that the more learned were only preparing them 
selves for Congress, and who rejected educated workmen on the 
ground that he could not run his mill with algebra, was in no way 
unusual or extreme; nor was the argument of the industrial publicist 
Henry Carey Baird, the founder of the first publishing firm in America 
specializing in technical and industrial books. "Too much education of 
a certain sort," he protested in i885, 9 

7 Charles F. Thwing: "College Training and the Business Man," North American 
Review, Vol. CLXVII (October, 1903), p. 599. 

8 On attitudes toward education, see Wyllie: op. cit., chapter 6; Kirkland: Dream 
and Thought in the Business Community, 18601900 (Ithaca, New York, 1956), 
chapters 3 and 4; Merle Curti: The Social Ideas of American Educators (New York, 
1935), chapters. 

9 Kirkland: op. cit., pp. 69-70. 


such as Greek, Latin, French, German, and especially bookkeep 
ing, to a person of humble antecedents, is utterly demoralizing in 
nine cases out o ten, and is productive of an army of mean- 
spirited "gentlemen" -who are above what is called a "trade" and 
who are only content to follow some such occupation as that of 
standing behind a counter, and selling silks, gloves, bobbins, or 
laces, or to "keep books.** . . . Our system of education, as fur 
nished by law, when it goes beyond what in Pennsylvania is called 
a grammar school, is vicious in the extreme productive of more 
evil than good. Were the power lodged with me, no boy or girl 
should be educated at the public expense beyond what he or she 
could obtain at a grammar school, except for some useful occupa 
tion. "The high school" of today must, as I believe, under an en 
lightened system, be supplanted by the technical school, with 
possibly "shops" connected with it. ... We are manufacturing 
too many "gentlemen" and "ladies," so called, and demoralization 
is the result. 

The extension of classical and liberal studies through the college 
years was often considered even worse than academic schooling at the 
high-school level, because it prolonged the youth s exposure to futile 
studies and heightened his appetite for elegant leisure. One business 
man rejoiced that his son s failure in college-entrance examinations 
had spared the boy all this. "Whenever I find a rich man dying and 
leaving a large amount of money to found a college, I say to myself, 
*It is a pity he had not died while he was poor/ " x 

Fortunately, many influential businessmen did not wholly share this 
attitude. Old Cornelius Vanderbilt was often considered the acme of 
self-satisfied ignorance, and the story is told that when a friend re 
ported to him Lord Palmerston s remark that it was too bad that a 
man of his ability had not had the advantages of formal education, 
Vanderbilt replied: "You tell Lord Palmerston from me that if I had 
learned education I would not have had time to learn anything else." 
None the less, Vanderbilt s wealth had brought him into a society in 
-which his lack of culture was a staggering handicap (he is reported 
to have read one book in his life, Pilgrim s Progress, and that at an 
advanced age). "Folks may say that I don t care about education," he 
confessed to his clergyman, "but I do. I ve been to England, and seen 
them lords and other fellows, and knew that I had twice as much 

1 Ibid., p. 101. 

259 Self-Help and Spiritual Technology 

brains as they had maybe, and yet I had to keep still, and couldn t 
say anything through fear of exposing myself." When his son-in-law 
entered the room in time to catch this remark, and chided the Com 
modore for having at last made such an admission, Vanderbilt beat a 
retreat: "I seem to get along better than half of your educated men/ 
Still, he had said to his minister: *Td give a million dollars today, 
Doctor, if I had your education* ; and in the end precisely this magnifi 
cent sum was extracted from him for the support of what became 
Vanderbilt University. 2 

Andrew Carnegie, it is reported, once saw the older and much 
richer Vanderbilt on the opposite side of Fifth Avenue, and mumbled 
to his companion: "I would not exchange his millions for my knowledge 
of Shakespeare." 3 But Carnegie shared, at a higher level, the mixture 
of feelings about education that Vanderbilt had shown. "Liberal edu 
cation," he once wrote, "gives a man who really absorbs it higher tastes 
and aims than the acquisition of wealth, and a world to enjoy, into 
which the mere millionaire cannot enter; to find therefore that it is 
not the best training for business is to prove its claim to a higher 
domain/ 4 Carnegie s munificent gifts to education and his evident 
pleasure in the company of intellectuals protect him from the charge 
that such utterances were hypocritical. And yet he took delight in 
demonstrating how useless higher education was in business; much as 
he praised "liberal education," he had nothing but contempt for the 
prevailing liberal education in American colleges. He enjoyed reciting 
the names of other successful men who had gone through a tough 
apprenticeship like his own, and in recording the evidences of the 
superiority of non-college men to college men in business. "College 
education as it exists seems almost fatal to success in that domain/ 
he wrote. 5 On the classical college curriculum he was unsparing. It 
was a thing on which men "wasted their precious years trying to ex 
tract education from an ignorant past whose chief province is to teach 
us, not what to adopt, but what to avoid/ Men had sent their sons to 
colleges "to waste their energies upon obtaining a knowledge of such 
languages as Greek and Latin, which are of no more practical use to 
them than Choctaw" and where they were "crammed with the details 

2 W. A. Croffut: The Vanderbilts and the Story of Their Fortune (Chicago and 
New York, 1886), pp. 137-8. 

3 Burton J. Hendrick: The Life of Andrew Carnegie (New York, 1932), VoL I, 
p. 60. 

4 The Empire of Business ( New York, 1902), p. 113. 

5 Wyllie: op. cit., pp. 96-104. 


of petty and insignificant skirmishes between savages." Their education 
only imbued them with false ideas and gave them "a distaste for 
practical life." "Had they gone into active work during the years spent 
at college they would have been better educated men in every true 
sense of that term." 6 Leland Stanford was another educational philan 
thropist who had no faith in existing education. Of all the applicants 
for jobs who came to him from the East, the most helpless, he said, 
were college men. Asked what they could do, they would say "any 
thing^ while in fact they had "no definite technical knowledge of 
anything," and no clear aim or purpose. He hoped that the university 
he endowed would overcome this by offering "a practical, not a 
theoretical education/ 7 

One must, of course, be careful about the conclusions one draws 
from anyone s dislike of the classical curriculum as it was taught in the 
old college; many men of high intellectual distinction shared this feel 
ing. The old college tried to preserve the Western cultural heritage 
and to inculcate a respectable form of mental discipline, but it was 
hardly dedicated to the vigorous advancement of critical intellect. 
The rapid advancement of scientific knowledge, the inflexibility of the 
old curriculum in the hands of its most determined custodians, and the 
dismal pedagogy that all too often prevailed in the classical college, 
did more to undermine the teaching of classics than the disdain of 
businessmen. To the credit of men like Carnegie, Rockefeller, Stan 
ford, Vanderbilt, Johns Hopkins, and other millionaires, it must be 
added that their support made possible the revamping of the old-time 
college and the creation of universities in the United States. But if one 
looks closely into business pronouncements on education, one finds a 
rhetoric which reveals a contempt for the reflective mind, for culture, 
and for the past. 

Around the turn of the century the attitudes of businessmen toward 
formal education as a background for business success underwent a 
conspicuous change. The rapid development of large-scale business in 
the last two decades of the nineteenth century had made the char 
acteristic big-business career a bureaucratic career. By their very suc 
cess the self-made men rapidly made their own type obsolete. How- 

6 The Empire of Business, pp. 7981; cf. pp. 145-7. 

7 Kirkland: op. cit., pp. 934. 

26 1 Self -Help and Spiritual Technology 

ever reluctantly, men began to see that the ideal of the uneducated 
self-made man, especially in the most desirable business positions, 
was coming to have less and less reality. Formal education, it had to be 
admitted, was a distinct asset for the more stable careers now being 
followed in bureaucratic businesses: the need for engineering, ac 
countancy, economics, and law grew from the changes in business or 
ganization itself. Hence, although the "school of experience" and the 
"college of hard knocks" still kept their nostalgic appeal for business 
spokesmen, the need for formally inculcated skills had to be recog 
nized. "The day has quite gone by/* the Commercial and Financial 
Chronicle recognized in 1916, "when it is sufficient for a young man to 
begin at the bottom and, without more training than he can gather in 
the daily routine, to grow up to be something more than a manager 
of an existing concern, or to acquire that breadth of knowledge and 
completeness of training which are necessary if he is to be fitted to 
compete with the expert young business men produced in other coun 
tries." The steel magnate, Elbert H. Gary, considered that the more 
the businessman knew "of that which is taught in schools, colleges 
and universities of a general character, the better it will be for him in 
commencing business," s 

This new acceptance of education was reflected in the background 
of men who stood at the helm of the great corporations. The generation 
of corporation executives that flourished from 1900 to 1910 was only 
slightly better educated than the generation of the 1870*5 . 9 But the 
rising young executives of the first decade of the new century were 
being recruited out of the colleges. In Mabel Newcomer s sample of 
top business executives, 39.4 per cent of those chosen from 1900 had 
some college education; but in 1925 this figure rose to 51.4 per cent 
and in 1950 to 75.6 per cent. 1 In 1950, about one of every five execu- 

8 Wyllie: op. cit., p. 113; see pp. 10715 for a good brief account of changing 
business attitudes toward education after 1890. 

9 See Frances W. Gregory and Irene D. Neu: "The American Industrial Elite in 
the 1870*8: Their Social Origins/ in William Miller, ed.: Men in Business (Cam 
bridge, Mass., 1952), p. 203, comparing the generation of the 1870*8 with that of 
19011910 encompassed by William Miller in "American Historians and the Busi 
ness Elite/ The Journal of Economic History, Vol. IX ( November, 1949), PP- 184 
208. In the 1870*8, 37 per cent of the executives had some college training; in 1901 
1910, 41 per cent had. On the emergence of the bureaucratic business career, see 
Miller s essay: "The Business Elite in Business Bureaucracies/ in Men in Business, 
pp. 286-305. 

1 Mabel Newcomer: The Big Business Executive (New York, 1955), p. 69, In 
1950, the author concludes (p. 77), "it is accepted that the college degree is the 
ticket of admission to a successful career with the large corporation, even though 
the initial employment for the college graduate may be manual labor." Joseph A. 


tives had also had some training in a graduate school (mainly in law 
or engineering). 

I Although these figures show that the once cherished model of the 
self-made man was being relinquished., they cannot be taken as show 
ing a rise in esteem for the liberal arts. The colleges themselves, 
under the elective system, became more vocational. In the nineteenth 
century, when the -well-to-do sent their sons to college, it was a fair 
assumption that they were sending them not for vocational training 
but out of a regard both for intellectual discipline and for social advan 
tages (the two are not always easily distinguishable). In the twen 
tieth century, they may send them, rather, for the gains measurable 
in cold cash which are supposedly attainable through vocational 
training. (Among male college graduates in 1954-55, the largest single 
group was majoring in business and commerce; they outnumbered 
the men in the basic sciences and the liberal arts put together.) 2 
A sign of the increasing vocational character of American higher 
education was the emergence of both undergraduate and graduate 
schools of business. The first of these was the Wharton School at the 
University of Pennsylvania, founded in 1881; the second was founded 
at the University of Chicago eighteen years later. There followed an 
efflorescence of such schools between 1900 and 1914. The early busi 
ness schools were caught between the hostility of the academic facul 
ties and the lingering suspicion of businessmen, who were sometimes 
still inclined to doubt that any kind of academic training, even that 
acquired in a business school, could be of practical use. Like almost 
every other kind of educational institution in America, the business 
schools quickly became heterogeneous in the quality of their faculties 
and students and in the degree to which they included the liberal arts 
in their curriculums. Thorstein Veblen dealt scathingly with these 
"keepers of the higher business animus/* suggesting mischievously that 
they were on a par with the divinity schools in that both were equally 
extraneous to the intellectual enterprise which is the true end of the 

Kahl^has suggestively remarked in his study of The American Class Structure, p. 93, 
that "if one should demand a single oversimplified distinction underlying class dif 
ferences in contemporary America to replace the outworn one of Marx, the answer 
would be this : the possession of a college degree." 

Employers sometimes still show a certain ceremonial loyalty to the ideal of the 
self-made man by putting a new employee, clearly destined for an executive posi 
tion, through a quick ascending series of minor posts. This is called learning the 
business from the bottom up, and is especially recommended for the sons or sons-in- 
law of high executives. 

2 William H. Whyte, Jr. : The Organization Man ( Anchor ed., 1956 ) , p. 88. 

2,63 Self-Help and Spiritual Technology 

university, Abraham Flexner, acknowledging in his famous survey of 
the universities that business-school faculties sometimes recruited dis 
tinguished men, considered their heavily vocational curriculums to be 
in the main beneath the dignity of the academic enterprise. 3 Within 
the universities,, business schools were often non-intellectual and at 
times anti-intellectual centers dedicated to a rigidly conservative set of 
ideas. When Dean Wallace Donham of the Harvard Graduate School 
of Business suggested to one such school in the Middle West that it 
offer a course on the problems of trade unionism, he was told: "We 
don t want our students to pay any attention to anything that might 
raise questions about management or business policy in their minds." 4 
The condition of American business today, as it is reflected in 
William H. Whyte s celebrated study of the social and cultural aspects 
of large business organization, displays a pattern recognizably similar 
to that of the past^Gone is the self-made man, of course. He may be 
cherished as a mythological figure useful in the primitive propaganda 
battles of politics, but every sensible businessman knows that in the 
actual recruitment and training of big business personnel it is the 
bureaucratic career that matters. Yet in this recruitment and training 
the tradition of business anti-intellectualism, quickened by the self- 
made ideal, remains very much alive. It no longer takes the form of 
ridiculing the value of college or other formal education in preparation 
for business, but of selective recruiting governed by narrow vocational 
principles. Here it is important to note, as Whyte does, that top busi 
ness executives do not characteristically defend these vocational prin 
ciples. When they make pronouncements on the subject, at commence 
ment exercises or elsewhere, they usually speak of the importance of 
liberal education, broad training,, and imaginative statecraft in the 
business world. There is little reason to doubt their sincerity. Most 
of them, although they are enormously hard-working and too pre 
occupied to keep their own general culture very much alive, are better 
educated than their subordinates, and they are disposed to lament 
mildly their own intellectual stagnation. They have begun to organize 
arts courses for their junior executives and to sponsor meetings be- 

3 Thorstein Veblen: The Higher Learning in America (New York, 1918), p. 204; 
Abraham Flexner; Universities: American, English, German (New York, 1930), 
pp. 162-72. 

4 Peter F. Drucker: "The Graduate Business School/ Fortune, Vol. XLIE 
(August, 1950), p. 116. For a general account of these schools and their problems, 
see L. C. Marshall, ed.: The Collegiate School of Business (Chicago, 19^8); and 
Frank C. Pierson et. al.: The Education of American Businessmen: A Study of 
University-College Programs in Business Administration (New York, 1959) 


tween intellectuals and businessmen. In this way, the old mercantile 
regard for culture as a sanction for business life is beginning to be 
revived. However, the news about their concern for the liberally 
educated man does not seem to filter down to the ranks of the per 
sonnel men who turn up each year on the college campuses to recruit 
talent. At this point of leverage, the overwhelming pressure of business 
on American higher education is severely vocational. 

The preference for vocationalism is linked to a preference for char 
acter or personality over mind, and for conformity and manipula 
tive facility over individuality and talent. "We used to look primarily 
for brilliance/* said one president, who must have been speaking of the 
past history of an idiosyncratic firm. "Now that much-abused word 
character has become very important. We don t care if you re a Phi 
Beta Kappa or a Tau Beta Phi. We want a well-rounded person who 
can handle well-rounded people/ A personnel manager reports that 
"any progressive employer would look askance at the individualist and 
would be reluctant to instill such thinking in the minds of trainees." 
A trainee agrees: "I would sacrifice brilliance for human understanding 
every time/ Mr. Whyte tells us, in a chapter entitled "The Fight 
against Genius/* that even in the field of industrial science this code 
prevails; that industrial scientists are shackled by the commitment to 
applied knowledge; that a famous chemical company s documentary 
film, made to recruit scientists for the firm, shows three of its research 
men conferring in a laboratory while the narrator announces: "No 
geniuses here; just a bunch of average Americans working together"; 
that the creativity of industrial scientists is pathetically low as com 
pared with that of the men in the universities; and that when the word 
brilliant appears, it is commonly coupled with such words as erratic, 
eccentric, introvert, and screwball. 5 } 

As late nineteenth-century America became more secular, traditional 
religion became infused with, and in the end to some degree dis 
placed by, a curious cult of religious practicality. If we are to accept 
the evidence of a long history of best-selling handbooks, from Russell 
H. ConwelTs "Acres of Diamonds" to the works of Norman Vincent 
Peale, this cult has had millions of devotees. It has become, by all 
internal evidence and everything we know about its readership, one 

5 Ibid., pp. 150, 152, 2,2,7-8, 2,33, 235, and chapter 16 passim. 

265 Self -Help and Spiritual Technology 

of the leading faiths of the American middle class. It is, as I hope 
to show, a rather drastically altered descendant of the older self-help 
literature, but it affords, in any case, striking evidence of the broad 
diffusion in American society of the practical motif. Modern inspira 
tional literature takes its stand firmly with the world: what it has to 
offer is practical. "Christianity" writes Norman Vincent Peale, "is 
entirely practical. It is astounding how defeated persons can be 
changed into victorious individuals when they actually utilize their 
religious faith as a workable instrument. * 6 

The literature of inspiration is of course ; by no means confined to 
America; it flourishes wherever the passion for personal advancement 
has become so intense that the difference between this motive and 
religious faith has been obscured. There has always been in Christian 
civilization a conviction that the world of business and that of 
religion must somehow be related, if only through their hostility or ten 
sion, since both have to do with morals, character, and discipline. At 
first, the negative relation was most clear: medieval prohibitions or 
limitations on usury expressed the conviction that it was a part of the 
task of the Church in the world to restrain economic exploitation. 
Later, the Puritan doctrine of the calling suggested another more posi 
tive relationship: diligence in business was one of the ways of serving 
God. Success or failure in business might then be a clue as to an 
individual s spiritual condition. But over the years this relationship 
gradually became reversed. The distinction between service to God 
and service to self broke down. ^Vhereas business had been an instru 
ment in religious discipline, one of the various means of serving God, 
religious discipline now became an instrument in business, a way o 
using God to a worldly end. And whereas men had once been able to 
take heart from business success as a sign that they had been saved, 
they now took salvation as a thing to be achieved in this life by an ef 
fort of will, as something that would bring with it success in the pursuit 
of worldly goals. Religion is something to be used. Mr. Peale tells his 
readers that his work demonstrates "a simple, workable technique of 
thinking and acting/* It "emphasizes scientific spiritual principles 
which have been demonstrated in the laboratory of personal ex 
perience." "The best place to get a new and workable idea for your 
business is in the type of church service described in this chapter." "If 
you will practice faith, you can be healed of ill-will, inferiority, fear, 
guilt, or any other block which impedes the flow of recreative energy. 

6 A Guide to Confident Living (New York, 1948), p. 55. 


Power and efficiency are available to you if you will believe.** 7 As 
H. Richard Niebuhr has remarked, there is a strain in modern Ameri 
can theology which "tends to define religion in terms of adjustment to 
divine reality for the sake of gaining power rather than in terms of 
revelation which subjects the recipient to the criticism of that which is 
revealed/* The consequence is that "man remains the center of religion 
and God is his aid rather than his judge and redeemer ." 8 
1 The older self-help literature, whatever its faults, had some organic 
relation both to the world of affairs and to the religious life. It assumed 
that business success is to a very large degree the result of character, 
and that character is formed by piety. It was in this way a natural, 
if intellectually simple, response to the historical convergence of 
Protestant moral imperatives, the doctrines of classical economics, and 
a fluid, open society. American society, as most modern studies of the 
subject show, is still fluid; but the conditions of success have changed: 
success now seems more intimately related to the ability to seize upon 
formal training than it does to the peculiar constellation of character 
traits that figured so prominently in the old self-help books. An early 
nineteenth-century businessman, queried as to what "discipline" made 
for success, might well have answered: "The discipline of poverty and 
the school of hard knocks/ or "The discipline of frugality and indus- 
triousness." The modern businessman, faced with the same query, is 
likely to answer: "Well, law is excellent, but engineering is pretty good 

Modern inspirational literature builds upon the old self-help tradi 
tion and bears a general resemblance to it, but it also has major 
differences J| In the old self-help system, faith led to character and 
character to a successful manipulation of the world; in the new system, 
faith leads directly to a capacity for self-manipulation, which is be 
lieved to be the key to health, wealth, popularity, or peace of mind. 
On the surface, this may seem to indicate a turning away from the 
secular goals of the older self-help books, but it actually represents a 
turning away from their grasp of reality, for it embodies a blurring of 
the distinction between the realms of the world and the spirit) In the 
old literature these realms interacted; in the new they become vaguely 
fused. The process represents, I believe, not a victory for religion but a 
fundamental, if largely unconscious, secularization of the American 

7 Ibid., pp. viii, 14, 108, 148, 165. 

8 "Religious Realism in the Twentieth Century," in D. C. Macintosh, ed.: Reli 
gious Realism ( New York, 1931 ) , pp. 425-6. 

^6/ Self-Help and Spiritual Technology 

middle-class mind. Religion has been supplanted, not, to be sure, by a 
consciously secular philosophy, but by mental self -manipulation, by a 
kind of faith in magic. Both religion and the sense of worldly reality 
suffer. It is easy to believe that rising young businessmen actually 
turned to the old self-help literature for a kind of rough guidance to the 
requisites of the business world, however little actual help they may 
have got. Today the inspirational literature seems to be read mainly 
by "defeated persons/ 7 to use Peale*s words, and not as much by men 
as by women, who, though affected by the practical code of business, 
do not actually enter business life. 

It is what Raymond Fosdick calls "power for daily living" that the 
success writers purport to give. In the nineteenth century the primary 
promise of success writers was that religion would bring wealth. Since 
the early 1930*5 there has been a growing emphasis on the promise of 
of mental or physical health; inspirational writing has been infused 
with safe borrowings from psychiatry and has taken on a faint colora 
tion from the existential anxieties of the past twenty years. Although 
success literature has given way to a literature of inspiration, its goals 
largely remain everyday practical goals. For more than a generation, 
the metaphorical language of this writing has been infiltrated and 
coarsened by terms taken from business, technology, and advertising; 
one often gets the sense that the spiritual life can be promoted by good 
copy and achieved like technological progress by systematic progres 
sive means. Louis Schneider and Sanford M. Dornbusch, in their il 
luminating study of the themes of inspirational books, have spoken of 
this as "spiritual technology/ 9 One success writer tells us that "God is a 
twenty-four-hour station. All you need to do is to plug in/* Another that 
""religious practice is an exact science that . . . f ollows spiritual laws 
as truly as radio follows its laws/* Another that "high octane thinking 
means Power and Performance" and that readers should "plug into the 
Power House/* Another that "the body is ... a receiving set for the 
catching of messages from the Broadcasting Station of God" and that 
"the greatest of Engineers ... is your silent partner/* Another that 
the railroad "saves money by having a Christian hand on the throttle." 
Another exhorts readers to "open every pore of your being to the 
health of God/* Another relates that a Sinclair gasoline ad provided 
"the idea for a sermon about the unused power in our souls/* Bruce 

9 Popular Religion: Inspirational Books in America (Chicago, 1958), pp. 164; 
the quotations in this paragraph may be found on pp. i, 6, J 9 44, 5in., 58, 6in., 
63, 90, gin., 106, 107. 


Barton, in his ineffable book, The Man Nobody Knows, remarked that 
Jesus "picked up twelve men from the bottom ranks o business and 
forged them into an organization that conquered the world. 77 "Conduct 
the affairs of your soul in a businesslike way/ 7 exhorts Emmet Fox. 
Prayer is conceived as a usable instrument. "A man," says Glenn Clark, 
"who learns and practices the laws of prayer correctly should be able 
to play golf better, do business better, work better, love better, serve 
better." "Learn to pray correctly, scientifically ,~ commands Norman 
Vincent Peale. "Employ tested and proven methods. Avoid slipshod 

One of the striking things that has occurred in the inspirational 
literature is that the voluntaristic and subjective impulses which I 
noted in commenting on the development of American Protestantism 
seem to have come into complete possession and to have run wild. 
There has been a progressive attenuation of the components of religion. 
Protestantism at an early point got rid of the bulk of religious ritual, 
and in the course of its development in the nineteenth and twentieth 
centuries went very far to minimize doctrine. The inspirational cult 
has completed this process, for it has largely eliminated doctrine at 
least it has eliminated most doctrine that could be called Christian. 
Nothing, then, is left but the subjective experience of the individual, 
and even this is reduced in the main to an assertion of his will. What 
the inspirational writers mean when they say you can accomplish 
whatever you wish by taking thought is that you can will your goals 
and mobilize God to help you release fabulous energies. Fabulous 
indeed they are: "There is enough power in you? says Norman Vincent 
Peale in an alarming passage, "to blow the city of New York to rubble. 
That, and nothing less, is what advanced physics tells us." Faith can 
release these forces, and then one can overcome any obstacle. Faith 
is not a way of reconciling man to his fate: it "puts fight into a man so 
that he develops a terrific resistance to defeat." * 

Horatio W. Dresser, discussing one of the earlier manifestations of 
inspirational thinking, the New Thought movement, once remarked 
that "the tendency of the New Thought . . . has been to make light 
of the intellect and of c the objective mind,* as if it were undesirable to 
become intellectual and as if one could have whatever one wishes by 
sending out a requisition into the great subconscious/ " 2 In the main, 
however, the anti-intellectualism of the inspirational cults has been 

1 A Guide to Confident Living, pp. 46, 55. 

2 Handbook of the New Thought (New York, 1917), pp. 

s,6g Self -Help and Spiritual Technology 

indirect: they represent a withdrawal from reality, a repudiation of all 
philosophies whose business is an engagement with real problems. At 
the same rime., they manifest a paradoxical secularization. Although 
professing Christians and ministers of the gospel are proud of having 
written successful inspirational books, the books themselves are likely 
to strike even secular intellectuals as blasphemous. The religious in 
heritance of the West seems more in the custody of such intellectuals 
than in the custody of these hearty advocates of the "utilization" of 

The confusion between religion and self-advancement is perhaps 
most aptly embodied in the title of Henry CL Link s remarkable book, 
The Return to Religion, a best-seller from 1936 to 1941. I do not think 
that this singular work could be regarded as entirely representative of 
inspirational literature, but it deserves special notice here, for it is 
possibly the most consummate manual of philistinism and conformity 
ever written in America. Despite its title, it is in no sense a religious 
or devotional work. Written by a consulting psychologist and personnel 
adviser to large business corporations, who reports that he found his 
way back to religion by way of science, this book view s religion as "an 
aggressive mode of life by which the individual becomes the master of 
his environment, not its complacent victim." 3 The author feels obliged 
to wage a running battle against both individuality and mind in the 
interests of the will to conformity. 

The issue is not put quite this way. Link s basic polar terms are 
introversion and extroversion (used in the popular, not the Jungian 
sense). Introversion, which involves withdrawal, self-examination, 
individuality, and reflection, is bad. It is in fact merely selfish. For the 
Socratic maxim, "Know thyself/* Link would substitute the injunction, 
"Behave yourself," because "a good personality or character is achieved 
by practice, not by introspection." On the other hand, extroversion, 
which involves sociability, amiability, and service to others, is unselfish 
and good. Jesus was a great extrovert, One of the functions of religion 

and it would appear that Link considers it the main function is to 

discipline the personality by developing extroversion. Link goes to 
church, he reports, "because I hate to go and because I know that it 
will do me good." Church attendance builds better personalities. So do 
bridge-playing and dancing and salesmanship they bring the individ- 

3 Quotations in this and the following paragraphs are in The Return to Religion 
( 1936; Pocket Book ed., 1943), PP- 9> ia> 14> 17, 19> 35, 44~5 ? 54-6*, 67, 69, 71, 
73> 78-9, 115-16, 147-9, 157- 


ual into contact with others whom he must please. The important thing 
for the individual is to get away from self -analysis and do work which 
will give him power over things. This, in turn, will lead to power over 
people, which will heighten self-confidence. 

For all these purposes, the critical mind is a liability. In college it is 
the intellectuals, the analytical students, who lose their religion; in 
later life it is thoughtful men who become excessively withdrawn. In a 
chapter entitled TFools of Reason,** Link argues that intellect and ra 
tionality are commonly overvalued. 

Reason is not an end in itself but a tool for the individual to use 
in adjusting himself to the values and purposes of living -which are 
beyond reason. Just as the teeth are intended to chew with, not to 
chew themselves,, so the mind is intended to think with, not to 
worry about. The mind is an instrument to live tvith, not to live for. 

To believe and act on faith is central. Although religion has been called 
the refuge of weak minds, the real weakness lies rather in the failure of 
minds to recognize the weakness of all minds." "Agnosticism is an intel 
lectual disease, and faith in fallacies is better than no faith at all . . . 
foolish beliefs are better than no beliefs at all." Even palmistry leads to 
holding other people s hands, phrenology to studying their heads and 
"all such beliefs take the individual out of himself and propel him into 
a world of greater interests/* Anyway, "the idolatry of reason and the 
intellectual scorn of religion" has left men prey to quackery and pseudo- 
science and political panaceas. In America there is an unfortunate na 
tional tendency to introversion, which, among other things, causes 
people to shirk their responsibility for the unemployed and to imagine 
that the federal government should do something about them. 

Mind is also a threat to marriage, because introversion undermines 
marital happiness. Divorced people turn out to have more intellectual 
interests than the happily married. A liking for philosophy, psychology, 
radical politics, and for reading the New Republic are much less 
auspicious for marital bliss than a liking for Y.M.C.A. work, Bible study, 
and the American Magazine. In a chapter entitled "The Vice of Educa 
tion/ Link attacks "the creation of a liberal mind" as "probably the 
most damaging single aspect of education" a dogma of education as 
mystical and irrational, he finds, as any dogma of the church ever was. 
Such education produces "ruthless iconoclasm" and creates a culture 
for its own sake and a demand for knowledge for its own sake. Liberal 
ism releases a person from the traditions and restraints of the past and 

Self -Help and Spiritual Technology 

substitutes nothing for tibem. The liberally educated young are dis 
posed to regard parents as old-fashioned, to spend freely, show intel 
lectual scorn for the pieties of their elders, seek intellectual vocations 
rather than the occupations of their fathers, and deprecate business as a 
career. A better insight into the abundant life can be found in army 
and navy barracks, where people face real values and are certain to be 
come more extroverted. 

t 272 ] 

Variations on a Theme 



. HE REFRAIN about the prior virtues of practicality to which busi 
nessmen give expression is a refrain they can easily pick up from the 
folklore of American life, and it is not always certain who is echoing 
whom. Expressions of the refrain have differed from time to time and 
from class to class, but its melody has always been distinguishable, as 
it resounds through a wide range of occupations and in the most dispa 
rate political camps. The evidence is abundant, and it is nearly unani 
mous in its testimony to a popular culture that has been proudly con 
vinced of its ability to get along indeed, to get along better with 
out the benefits of formal knowledge, even without applied science. 
The possession and use of such knowledge was always considered to be 
of doubtful value; and in any case it was regarded as the prerogative of 
specialized segments of the population that were resented for their 
privileges and refinements. 

We can begin with the peculiar accents given to the common theme 
by farmers, simply because the United States was for a long time pri 
marily a nation of farmers. At the end of the eighteenth century, about 
nine out of ten Americans made their living directly from farming; in 
1820, seven out of ten; not until 1880 did persons otherwise employed 
equal farmers in numbers. In many ways the American farmer was 
primarily a businessman. He may often have thought of farming as a 
way of life, but this way of life soon became astonishingly businesslike 
in its aspirations if not always in its mode of conductfjThe vast extent 
of the American land, the mobile and non-traditional character of 
American rural life, and the Protestant dynamism of American society 
made for a commercially minded and speculative style in farming. The 

273 Variations on a Theme 

fanner was constantly tempted to engross more land than he could 
economically cultivate, to hold it speculatively for a rise in values, to go 
in for extensive and careless rather than intensive and careful cultiva 
tion., to concentrate on raising a single big commercial crop, to mine 
and deplete the soil, then to sell out and move. As early as 1813 John 
Taylor of Caroline, in his Arator, found that Virginia was "nearly 
ruined** for lack of careful cultivation,, and begged his countrymen: 
"Forbear, oh forbear matricide, not for futurity, not for God s sake, but 
for your own sake. 7 * La the 1830*3 Tocqueville concluded: "The Ameri 
cans carry their businesslike qualities into agriculture, and their trad 
ing passions are displayed in that as in their other pursuits.* * 

Farmers had their own notion of what was practical, most simply 
expressed in their attitude toward scientific improvement in agriculture 
and toward agricultural education. Among a busy and hard-working 
farm community that was seldom very affluent one could hardly expect 
to find patrons of art and learning; but a receptive state of mind at least 
toward applied science would have been immensely useful to the 
farmers themselves. Even this was considered useless. There was, of 
course, a deviant minority; but the preponderant attitude of dirt farm 
ers toward improvement in their own industry was a crass, self-defeat 
ing kind of pragmatism. 

Like almost everything else in American life, the farm industry -was 
large and heterogeneous. But there was one basic class division within 
it that coincided with a cleavage in philosophical outlook and that 
was the early nineteenth-century division between the dirt farmers and 
a small stratum of gentlemen farmers. The gentlemen farmers were 
large farmers, professional men, college or university scientists, busi 
nessmen, or agricultural editors who commonly had incomes from 
sources outside farming, who -were interested in agricultural experi 
mentation, read and on occasion wrote books on the subject, hoped to 
use scientific knowledge to improve agriculture, formed agricultural 
societies, and joined or led movements to uplift agricultural education. 
Distinguished names, recognizable for their achievements in other 
areas, can be found among the gentleman farmers. They include such 
men as the Connecticut preacher Jared Eliot, who wrote his classic 
Essay on Field Husbandry in New England between 1748 and 1759, 
and Eliot*s sometime correspondent, Benjamin Franklin, who main- 

a john Taylor: Arator (Georgetown, 1813), pp. 767; Alexis de Tocqueville: 
Democracy in America ( New York, 1945 ), Vol. II, p. 157; I have tried to assess the 
commercial element in American agriculture in The Age of Reform (New York, 
1955), chapters. 


tained a farm near Burlington, New Jersey, from which he hoped to 
reap a profit but which he also used as a terrain on which to pursue 
his scientific curiosity. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and John 
Taylor of Caroline, who belonged to the tradition of the enlightened 
agriculturists, attempted to import into the practices of Virginia agri 
culture the benefits of the revolution in eighteenth-century English 
farming. They were followed by Edmund Ruffin, famous for his ex 
periments with calcareous fertilizers, editor of the Farmers Register, 
and later a militant sectionalist who fired the first shot at Fort Sumter. 
Outside Virginia, the most active and impressive center of agitation for 
agricultural improvement was not in a notable farming community but 
at Yale College, where an understanding of the needs of agriculture 
-was Tfnlced to the study of advanced chemistry. There, academic 
scientists, beginning with the younger Benjamin Silliman, concerned 
themselves with soil chemistry, crops, and scientific agriculture; Silli 
man was followed by John P. Norton, John Addison Porter, and Samuel 
W. Johnson. Among other things, these men attempted to popularize 
the work of Justus Liebig in soil chemistry. Jonathan B. Turner of 
Illinois, also educated at Yale, was one of the leading agitators for im 
proved agricultural education; the inspiration of the Morrill Act has 
been rather uncertainly credited to him. In New York the self-educated 
farm editor Jesse Buel preached consistently for higher standards in 
agriculture. In Pennsylvania Evan Pugh, a brilliant student of plant 
growth and plant chemistry, became president of the Agricultural 
College of Pennsylvania and helped promote the Morrill Act before his 
premature death at thirty-six. 

In that they combined scientific curiosity with agricultural practice 
and a sense of civic responsibility with the pursuit of agricultural prof 
its, such men provided an example of the admirable union of the intel 
lectual and the practical. And they were not altogether without a 
public. Their work reached a fairly broad class of gentleman farmers 
men who were the backbone of agricultural societies and farm fairs, 
readers of farm periodicals, proponents of agricultural schools and col 
leges. A good practical book on agriculture, if successful, might sell 
from ten to twenty thousand copies. Perhaps one farmer in ten sub 
scribed to an agricultural Journal, and on the eve of the Civil War there 
were more than fifty such journals, in various stages of prosperity or 
poverty. 2 

2 On the number of farm journals, see Albert L. Demaree: The American 
Agricultural Press, 18191860 (New York, 1941), pp. 17 xg; on books and journals. 

2,75 Variations on a Theme 

But the advocates of agricultural improvement and the gentlemen 
farmers were resented by dirt farmers. This resentment had in it an 
element of class feeling: the gentlemen organized and promoted the 
agricultural activities, and overshadowed the small farmers. At the 
county fairs, they were likely to turn up with the prize specimens, 
produced experimentally and without regard to cost; the common 
farmer could not compete with these. 3 Their preachments also ran up 
against a state of mind that was conservative, unreceptive, suspicious 
of innovation, and often superstitious. The American farmer, untradi- 
tional though he was about land speculation, about moving from place 
to place, or about adopting new machinery, was ultra-conservative 
about agricultural education or the application of science to farming. 
As a consequence, the professional agriculturists and farm editors felt 
that they were working in a skeptical, if not hostile, environment. "If 
the farmers in your neighborhood," wrote Benjamin Franklin to Jared 
Eliot, "are as unwilling to leave the beaten road of their ancestors as 
they are near me, it will be difficult to persuade them to attempt any 
improvement/ George Washington wrote apologetically to Arthur 
Young that American farmers were more eager to take advantage 
of cheap land than to expend dear labor, and that, as a consequence, 
"much ground has been scratched over and none cultivated or im 
proved as it ought to have been." Edmund Ruffin, who conducted his 
early experiments under the eyes of mocking neighbors, concluded: 
"Most farmers are determined not to understand anything, however 
simple it may be, which relates to chemistry." "Our farmers," com 
plained Jesse Buel, "seem generally indifferent or spiritless in regard to 
the general improvement of our agriculture, either because they mis 
take their duty and true interest or that, under the influence of a 
strange fatuity, they fear they shall sink as others rise." The farmers, 
said the editor of the American Farmer in 1831, "will neither take an 
agricultural paper, read it when given them, nor believe in its contents 
if by chance they hear it read." Twenty years later the eminent British 
agricultural scientist, James F. W. Johnston, reported after a lecture 
tour in America that the farmers were "averse to change, and more 
averse still to the opinion that they are not already wise enough for all 

Paul W. Gates: The Farmer s Age: Agriculture, 1815-1860 (New York, 1960), pp. 

3-43? - 

3 *On this aspect of the fairs, see Gates: op. cit., pp. 31^-15; cf. W. C. Neely: 
The Agricultural Fair (New York, 1935), PP- 3O, 35, 4^-5, 7* l8 3J an<* P. W. Bid- 
well and J. I. Falconer: History of Agriculture in the Northern United States 
(Washington, 1925), pp. 186-93. 


they Lave to do/* In New York they were opposed to an agricultural 
college, he found, "on the ground that the knowledge to be given in 
the school is not required, and that its application to the soil would be 
of doubtful benefit." 4 

In fact, the farmer had a good deal to learn from the agricultural 
reformers. Even the open-minded farmer was likely to be ignorant of 
the principles of plant and animal breeding, of plant nutrition, of 
sound tillage, of soil chemistry. Many farmers were sunk in the super 
stitions of moon-farming sowing, reaping, and mowing in accordance 
with the phases of the moon. Their practices were wasteful and deple 
tive. 5 For the educative efforts of the reformers they had the disdain 
of the "practical" man for the theorist expressed in the contemptuous 
term book farming. "The men who are farmers by book are no farmers 
for me," said one. "Give me the man who prefers his hands to books 
... let those who follow husbandry for amusement try experiments. 
. . . Let learned men attend to cases, genders, moods and tenses: you 
and I will see to our flocks, dairies, fields and fences." 6 Against this 
overwhelming prejudice the reformers and farm editors manfully 
waged a difficult struggle. Jesse Buel complained that in every other 
sphere in war and navigation, law and medicine Americans had 
thought of formal education as a meaningful aid, indeed as a neces 
sity: 7 

And yet, in Agriculture, by which, under the blessing of Provi 
dence, we virtually "live, and move, and have our being," and 
which truly embraces a wider range of useful science than either 
law, medicine, war, or navigation, we have no schools, we give no 
instruction, we bestow no governmental patronage. Scientific 
knowledge is deemed indispensable in many minor employments 
of life; but in this great business, in which its influence would be 
most potent and useful, we consider it, judging from our practice, 

4 Carl Van Doren: Benjamin Franklin (New York, 1938), p. 178; Bidwell and 
Falconer: op. cit., p. 119; Avery O. Craven: Edmund Ruffin, Southerner (New- 
York, 1932), p. 58; Harry J. Carman, ed.: Jesse Buel: Agricultural Reformer 
(New York, 1947), p. 10; Demaree: op. cit., p. 38; James F. W. Johnston: Notes on 
North America: Agricultural, Economic, and Social ( Edinburgh, 1851), Vol. II, 
p. 281. 

5 Demaree: op. cit., pp. 4-6, 10, 48-9. On wasteful cultivation, see Gates: op. 
cit., who makes the necessary regional and ethnic qualifications. 

6 Richard Bardolph: Agricultural Literature and the Early Illinois Farmer 
(Urbana, Illinois, 1948), p. 14; cf . pp. 13, 103. 

7 Carman: op. cit., pp. 249-50. See the instructive essay in which these remarks 
appeared, pp. 234-54, and BueFs remarks "On the Necessity and Means of Improv 
ing Our Husbandry/* pp. 82,1. 

2,77 Variations on a Theme 

of less consequence than the fictions of the novelist. We regard 
mind as the efficient power in most other pursuits; while we forget 
that in Agriculture it is the Archimedean lever, which, though it 
does not move, tends to fill a world with plenty, with moral 
health, and human happiness. Can it excite surprise that, under 
these circumstances of gross neglect, Agriculture should have be 
come among us, in popular estimation, a clownish and ignoble 

But "the great bar to agricultural improvement," Buel thought, "is 
the degrading idea, which too many entertain, that everything de 
nominated science is either useless in husbandry or beyond the reach of 
the farmer." 8 The continuous exhortations of the farm editors, their 
constant efforts to overcome the feeling against book farming, seem to 
bear out his -words. Not all the farm journals were impeccable; some 
of them had their own quackeries to peddle. But, in any case, they 
found it constantly necessary to explain apologetically that they were 
not advocating anything ultra-theoretical, that most of their copy was 
written by practicing farmers. When Laebig s great work on soil 
chemistry was brought out in an American edition in 1841 this, it must 
be said, found a receptive and eager public among agricultural reform 
ers and even among a few dirt farmers his discoveries were de 
scribed in the Southern Planter as "new fine-spun theories." 9 

Mr. Justus Liebig is no doubt a very clever gentleman and a 
most profound chemist, but in our opinion he knows about as 
much of agriculture as the horse that ploughs the ground, and 
there is not an old man that stands between the stilts of a plough in 
Virginia that cannot tell him of facts totally at variance with his 
finest spun theories. 

In the light of what has been said about opposition to science and book 
farming, it will hardly be surprising that there was great reluctance 

8 Carman: op. cit., p. 53. For a temperate answer by another editor to the ultra- 
practical bias of the working farmer, see: "An Apology for Book Farmers/ ** 
Farmer s Register y Vol. II. (Tune, 1834 )> pp. 16-19; cf. "Book Farming," Farmer s 
Register, Vol. I (May, 1834), P- 743- 

9 Demaree: op. cit., p. 67. On the dirt farmers and the farm press, see pp. 113 
16; cf. Sidney L. Jackson: Americas Struggle -for Free Schools (Washington, 1940 ), 
pp. 11114, 142-4. The farmer s favorite secular reading seems to have been his 
almanac, and the old farmer s almanac at times catered to his anti-intellectual 
sentiments with racy anecdotes or poems about the impracticality and foolishness 
>f the learned. Jackson: op. cit., pp. 1:213. 


among farmers to accept the idea that education ( other than a highly 
practical on-the-fann training) could do much for their children. Such 
hopes as the farmers may have had for agricultural education seems to 
have been overweighed by their fear that more schools would only 
mean more taxes. An advocate of agricultural schools in the American 
Farmer in 1827 found that farmers themselves had offered "the warm 
est opposition to them." * A correspondent writing to the New England 
Farmer in 1852, himself an opponent of a proposed Massachusetts 
agricultural college, thought that nine tenths of the practical farmers 
of the state agreed with him. In any case, he set forth articulately 
enough the arguments of the opposition to the school: farmers would 
not make use of it; they would consider it "a grand and expensive ex 
periment" that did not promise a corresponding return; it would only 
give "a few men a rich and lucrative office" that they had no experience 
to qualify for; the advocates of the scheme hoped to give the sons of 
rich men and those in genteel pursuits a knowledge of farming. As to 
that, "the art cannot be taught to any advantage, except by practice" * 
This was only a facet of a more general rural reluctance to support 
educational enterprises. Sidney L. Jackson, in his analysis of attitudes 
toward the common-school movement, reports that the farmer "was 
more a hindrance than a help in the struggle for better schools." 3 The 
various experiments in agricultural colleges that were made in the 
United States before the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862 were 
chiefly the work of small, dedicated groups of agricultural reformers 
which no doubt accounts in some part for the fact that in a nation 
overwhelmingly agricultural and desperately in need of agricultural 
skills 4 so little was done until the federal government intervened. 

1 Gates: op. cit., pp. 358-60. 

2 "Agricultural Colleges," reprinted from the New England Farmer, n.s. Vol. IV 
(June, 1852), pp. 267-8, in Demaree; op. cit., pp. 2502. 

3 Jackson: op. cit., p. 172; cf. pp, 113, 127, passim. 

4 Professor John P. Norton of Yale wrote in 1852: "If any six states of the Union 
were within the present year to make provision for the establishment of state 
agricultural schools, or colleges, within tneir respective borders were to endow 
them largely in every department, to furnish them with libraries, implements, 
museums, apparatus, buildings, and lands, they could not find on this continent the 
proper corps of professors and teachers to fill them." He doubted, in fact, that a 
single institution in New York could find a faculty of "thoroughly competent men." 
Demaree: op. cit., p. 245. 

For a brief history of efforts to improve education in farming, see A. C. True: 
A History of Agricultural Education in the United States, 1785-2025 (Washington, 
1929). In 1851 Edward Hitchcock made a survey of agricultural education in 
Europe for the Massachusetts legislature; in it the work of the American states ap 
peared to great disadvantage when compared with the continental countries, 
especially Germany and France. 

Variations on a Theme 

The passage in 1862 of the Merrill Act owed little to popular enthusi 
asm; once again, it was the achievement of a group of determined 
lobbyists. Earle D. Ross, in his excellent study of the land-grant move 
ment, observes that "there was no indication of spontaneous public 
interest." The Morrill Act was hardly noticed, amid the war news, by 
the general press; the agricultural papers themselves failed to show 
much enthusiasm, and some did not even take cognizance of its exist 
ence. 5 

The law itself, at first, was hardly more than a well-intentioned 
promise; and the reformers were to find out in the next thirty years 
how difficult it was to execute meaningfully a reform so far in advance 
of public opinion. Senator Merrill s notions were sensible enough. The 
American soil, he recognized, was badly and wastefully cultivated; 
other countries were doing far more than the United States in the way 
of agricultural and mechanical education; experiments and surveys 
were needed; the farmer had to have instruction in new scientific find 
ings; the creation of sound agricultural and mechanical schools, sup 
ported by the revenues from the public lands, would be in line with 
earlier American precedents for aid to education; it would not interfere 
with the autonomy of the states or with the kind of education then be 
ing offered by the classical colleges. For a time, MorrilTs proposals ran 
afoul of sectional politics, and the idea of agricultural land-grant col 
leges was vetoed by Buchanan in 1859. But Lincoln signed a similar 
bill three years later. Congress seems to have been more persuaded 
of the need for reform than the majority of farmers. 6 Unfortunately, 
however, as Ross remarks, the measure was never discussed on its 
educational merits. Objections to it were based largely on its alleged 
unconstitutionality and on trivia with the consequence that the law, 
as it emerged from Congress, was inadequate to realize the intentions 
of its framers. 

Once established, the land-grant colleges were beset by all kinds of 
difficulties, not least among them the jealousy of the existing colleges 
and the American preference for educational diffusion and dispersion 

5 Earle D. Ross: Democracy s College (Ames, Iowa, 1942), p. 66. 

6 Rather exceptional in the Congressional debates over the land-grant college 
principles were such echoes of the feeling ahout book-farming as were uttered by 
Senator Rice of Minnesota: "If you wish to establish agricultural colleges, give to 
each man a college of his own in the shape of one hundred and sixty acres of land 
. . . but do not give lands to the states to enable them to educate the sons of the 
wealthy at the expense of the public. We -want no fancy farmers; we want no 
fancy mechanics. . . /* I. L. Kandel: Federal Aid for Vocational Education (New 
York, 1917), p. 10. 


as against concentration of effort. It was inordinately difficult to recruit 
competent staffs. Old-line educators, reared on the traditions of the 
classical colleges, often could not really accept the legitimacy of agri 
cultural and mechanical education, and on occasion they sabotaged the 
new colleges from within. On the opposite side, there was the tradi 
tional small-minded opposition from farmers and folk leaders, who 
persisted in believing that science had nothing ^practical" to offer 
farmers. As Ross points out, "the farmers themselves were the hardest 
to convince of the need and possibility of occupational training." 
When they did not resist the idea of such education, they resisted 
proposals that it have any university connections or any relation to ex 
perimental science. Separate farm colleges, severely utilitarian in 
purpose, would do. The Wisconsin Grange argued that each profession 
should be taught by its practitioners. "Ecclesiastics should teach ec 
clesiastics, lawyers teach lawyers, mechanics teach mechanics, and 
farmers teach farmers." Some governors wanted to get as far away as 
possible from the tradition of liberal education represented by the clas 
sical colleges. The governor of Ohio wanted the instruction to be "plain 
and practical, not theoretically and artistically scientific in character"; 
the governor of Texas imagined that an agricultural college was "for 
the purpose of training and educating farm laborers**; the governor of 
Indiana thought that any kind of higher education would be a deterrent 
to honest labor. 7 

More decisive than any argument was the fact that not many farmers 
sent their sons; and when they did, the sons took advantage of their 
educational opportunities to get out of farming usually to go into 
engineering. For years the agricultural colleges had relatively few stu 
dents, and among these the students of "mechanic arts" i.e., engineer 
ing outnumbered the students of agriculture from year to year by 
ratios of two, three, four, or five to one. An improvement in the situa 
tion of agricultural science came with the Hatch Act of 1887, which 
created the system of federal experiment stations working in close co 
operation with the agricultural colleges and also made available ex 
panding research facilities. By the iSgo s the colleges of agriculture 

7 Boss: op. cit., chapters 5 ,6, 7, and pp. 66, 7^, 80, 87, 89-90, 96-7, 108-9. One 
paper called the agricultural colleges "asylums for classical idiots and political 
professors/* and another suggested that the necessary task was "to clean out the 
smug DJD/s and the pimply-faced Professors/ and put in their places men who 
have a lively sense of the lacks in learning among men and women who have to 
grapple daily with the world s work in this busy age." Ibid., pp. 119-20. Cf. 
James B. Angell: Reminiscences (New York, 1912), p. 123: "The farmers . . . 
were the hardest class to convince that we could be of any help to them/ 

Variations on a Theme 

finally had something of considerable value to offer in the way of 
scientific training. 

Another flaw in the land-grant system was that it had been built from 
the top down. No provision had been made by Congress to develop a 
system of rural secondary schools good enough to equip graduates for 
admission to agricultural colleges. This defect was remedied in 1917 
in the Smith-Hughes Act, which made federal subsidies available to 
secondary vocational education in agriculture. The return of agricul 
tural prosperity after the long deflationary period from 1873 to 1897 
also brought a turn in the fortunes of agricultural education. Better 
profits encouraged farmers to think about business management, ani 
mal breeding, soil science, and agricultural economics. The advance of 
mechanization made it easier for them to spare their sons from the 
farms. The number of agricultural students rose consistently and 
rapidly after 1905, and on the eve of the First World War it almost 
equalled the number of engineers. As M. L. Wilson, Undersecretary of 
Agriculture under Franklin D. Roosevelt, recalled, the contempt for 
book farming, almost universal in his Iowa community down to the 
turn of the century, was overcome only during the years of his youth: s 

Shortly after the twentieth century began, science began to work 
a revolution among the mass of farmers. When I went to Ames to 
study agriculture in 1902, I was not the first boy in my Iowa 
neighborhood to go to college, but I was the first boy from that 
neighborhood to go to an agricultural college. Ten or fifteen years 
later it was becoming an accepted thing for all who could af 
ford it. 

I. L. Kandel, surveying the subject in 19 17, remarked with ample justi 
fication that the land-grant colleges, "intended by Senator Morrill and 
his supporters for the function primarily of scientific preparation for 
agricultural pursuits, are only just now, more than fifty years after their 
foundation, beginning to fulfil the function for which they -were 
established." 9 

The reader, who -will be unlikely to think of the agricultural and 
mechanical colleges as pre-eminently centers of intellectualism, may 
question what was accomplished and what is being asserted here. I 
have no intention of misstating the character of the agricultural colleges 

8 Milburn L. Wilson, in O. E. Baker, R. Borsodi, and M. Lu Wilson: Agricul 
ture in Modern Life ( New York, 1939) , pp. 2,2.34. 

9 Kandel: op. cit. ? p. 103; cf. p. 106. On the number of students in agricultural 
and mechanical courses in these colleges, see p. 102.. 


in this respect; they were meant only to bring vocational education and 
applied science into some kind of fruitful union, which I take to be a 
useful objective. The essential point here is that this much-needed 
fusion was achieved only after a century of agitation by agricultural 
reformers in the teeth of a widespread and extremely obstinate con 
viction among working farmers that theory has nothing to offer to 

* 3 * 

Farming could be plausibly portrayed as a "natural" way of living, 
whose practitioners might lose far more than they would gain by at 
tending to sophisticated critics and adopting bookish or scientific ideas. 
It was quite otherwise with the industrial working class, whose way of 
life was considered unnatural, and who needed to be brought to some 
level of self -awareness and organization before they could give expres 
sion to any attitude toward their fate. From the outset, the rela 
tionship of intellectual criticism and the labor movement took on a 
more complex character than it had among farmers. In his brilliant in 
quiry into The Psychology of Socialism, Henri de Man remarked: "The 
labor movement, uninfluenced by the intelligentsia and its concerns 
[Intelligenzlermotives], would be nothing more than a representation 
of interests intended to turn the proletariat into a new bourgeoisie/* x 
There is in this observation a certain ironic appropriateness for the 
American labor movement, which more than any other has aimed at 
making the proletariat into a new bourgeoisie. In the United States, as 
elsewhere, the labor movement was in a very real sense the creation of 
intellectuals. But it was a child that turned upon its own father in order 
to forge its distinctive character. It was not possible to develop labor 
leadership of the type that could finally succeed in creating permanent 
organizations in America until a curious dialectic had been gone 
through: first, the influence of intellectuals and their systematic cri 
tique of capitalism created an awareness of the necessity for and the 
possibilities of a labor movement; but then, in successive stages, this 
influence had to be thrown off before the labor movement could shed 
distractions and excrescences, devote itself to organizing job-conscious 
trade unions, and establish itself on a durable and successful footing^ 
\ Historically, the American labor movement did not begin with that 
narrow concentration on the job, the wage bargain, and the strike which 

1 Henri de Man: Zur Psychologie des gozialismus (Jena, 1926), p, 307. 

283 Variations on a Theme 

eventually became the essence of its character. It was always heavily 
infiltrated with bourgeois leadership, affected by the aims of reform 
theorists, and colored by the interest of its members either in achieving 
a solid place in bourgeois society or in entirely reforming that society. 
Its early history consists of association with one sweeping reform 
panacea or another land reform, anti-monopoly, Greenbackism, pro 
ducers co-operatives, Marxism, Henry George s single tax. Not until 
more than three quarters of a century of such experimentation had left 
the American labor movement with next to nothing to show in the way 
of solid permanent organization did it develop any effectiveness, and 
this only when it was taken over by pragmatic leaders of the order of 
Samuel Gompers and Adolph Strasser, who brought it to a focus on the 
job and the wage bargain and on the organization of skilled trades 
strong enough to hope to monopolize the labor market in their own 
crafts. y 

Both Adolph Strasser, who had been a socialist, and Samuel Gom 
pers, the guiding spirit of the A. F. of L. during its first generation of 
existence, undoubtedly owed a good deal to their own youthful dia 
logues with the socialists. Gompers paid what was perhaps a reluctant 
tribute to fhfo early intellectual training in his autobiography, when he 
pointed out: 

Many of those who helped to lay the foundations of the trade 
union movement were men who had been through the experience 
of Socialism and found their way to sounder policies. . . . They 
were always men of vision. . . . Experiences in Socialism served a 
constructive purpose if the individual was able to develop be 
yond the formulas of Socialism, for such carried to their practical 
duties a quickened insight and an understanding that tangible ob 
jectives are merely instrumentalities for reaching a higher spiritual 

However, whereas socialism may have taught such men the pos 
sibilities of a labor movement, the labor movement itself, once estab 
lished, taught them the impossibility of socialism in America. From his 
earliest days in the labor movement, Gompers had to battle with "fad 
dists, reformers, and sensation-loving spirits" his terms for the ideolo 
gues who hovered around the labor movement; and there were times 
when these ideologues were among his most formidable enemies. It 
-was the socialists who were instrumental in defeating him for the presi 
dency of the A. F. of L. in 1894, the only year when he was not re- 


elected. He was convinced that leadership could be entrusted "only to 
those into whose hearts and minds had been woven the experiences of 
earning their bread by daily labor." "I saw the danger of entangling al 
liances with intellectuals who did not understand that to experiment 
with the labor movement was to experiment with human life." 2 

Intellectuals were estranged from labor leaders like Gompers be 
cause their expectations from the labor movement were altogether dif 
ferent. The intellectuals tended to look upon the labor movement as a 
means to a larger end to socialism or some other kind of social recon 
struction. They came from outside the labor movement, and were rarely 
recruited from the working class itself. As a rule, they disdained the 
middle-class respectability to which most labor leaders, and in fact most 
rank and file skilled workers, aspired. A bread-and-butter organization 
like the A. F. of L. never appealed to their idealism, and they persist 
ently looked down upon its leadership. The labor leaders themselves 
may best be understood, I believe, as a group of self-made men, in 
this respect not profoundly different from hundreds of such men in 
industrial corporations. As Strasser said, in a classic encounter: "We are 
all practical men." 3 They came from the ranks of the working class, 
for the most part, and never quite ceased to hope that labor and its 
leaders would achieve a respectability comparable to that enjoyed by 
businessmen. They had been exposed to anti-capitalist and anti- 
monopoly thought, but unlike the intellectuals they were unfamiliar 
with the thoroughgoing indictments of bourgeois civilization that per 
vaded avant-garde thought in politics and esthetics. They were good 
patriots, good family men, in time good Republicans or Democrats. 4 
Their early contacts with intellectuals or what they took to be intel 
lectuals were of the sort to arouse their suspicion. At first there were 
the battles with the socialist doctrinaires within the labor movement 

2 Samuel Gompers: Seventy Years of Life and Labor (192,5; ed. New York, 
1943)5 Vol. I, pp. 55, 57, 97-8, 180, 382. This distrust of intellectuals in the labor 
movement was shared by one of the early labor intellectuals, John R. Commons, 
who felt that the labor movement attracted a type of intellectual who made a poor 
leader. See John R. Commons: Myself (New York, 1934), pp. 869; see also his 
Industrial Goodwill (New York, 1919), pp. 176-9. 

3 Senate Committee on Education and Labor, Relations between Labor and 
Capital, Vol. I (Washington, 1885), p. 460. Cf. the equally classic remark of 
Gompers in 1896: "The trade unions are the business organizations of the wage 
earners/" Report of the Sixteenth Annual Convention of the American Federation 
of:Labor, 1896, p. 12,. 

^ My remarks here have been shaped in part by Selig Perlman*s A Theory of the 
La$or Movement (1928; ed. New York, 1949), pp. viii-ix, 154, 176, 182, and 
chapter 5, passim. See C. Wright Mills s provocative remarks about labor leaders 
as self-made men, in The New Men of Power ( New York, 1948), chapter 5. 

2,3$ Variations on a Theme 

itself. The labor leaders constantly smarted from the criticism of aca 
demic economists, 5 who were for a long time an almost united phalanx 
against labor ~tihe professoriate/ 7 as Gompers labeled them, "the open 
and covert enemies of the workers," and "faddists., theorists and ef 
feminate men." Finally., around the turn of the century, the movement 
for "scientific management" was regarded by labor as a grave menace; 
Gompers saw its leaders as "academic observers" and "intellectuals" 
who merely wanted to get the most out of the energies of workers be 
fore sending them to the junkpile. These were not experiences to en 
courage confidence. 6 The labor movement was in fact struggling to 

5 Although the American labor movement was always favorable to the develop 
ment of the common-school system, it was chronically suspicious of the higher cul 
ture and of institutions of higher learning. From time to time labor journals made 
acid comments about the gifts of millionaires to museums, libraries, and universities, 
pointing out that these had been wrung out of the wages of the workers "millions 
taken from the earnings of the toilers, given to institutions which the workmen and 
their children can never enter and enjoy/ A particular hostility was expressed to 
ward universities and colleges, as places where poor men s sons could never go and 
where "millions are annually expended in teaching the sons of the wealthy some 
new brutality in football/* Quite understandably the labor editors feared that the 
universities would be bound by their endowments to teach that the status quo was 
beyond criticism, and that colleges and universities would become "incubators * for 
scabs and strikebreakers, ,What could be expected to be taught at a university en 
dowed by Rockefeller? Would it be the rights of man or the superiority of the 
wealthy? One writer even suggested in 1905 that the new "theoretical college 
men* who were replacing the old practical men in the leadership of industry 
would be more remote from the workers because they had not risen from the ranks. 
College men "have nothing in common -with plain workingmen upon whom they 
look down with disdain as did the patricians of old upon the plebians, or the slave 
owners of the South upon the Negroes/* In 1914 the American Federationist sug 
gested that private endowments were unsuited to the pursuit of the truth, and were 
"a menace to free institutions." If they could not be better devoted to the truth, 
"then they must give way to state institutions supported by public funds." American 
Federationist, Vol. XXI (February, 1914), pp. 1.2,0 i. See Rail Road Conductor 
(November, 1895), p. 613; Typographical Journal (June 15, 1896), p. 484; Boiler 
makers* Journal (March, 1899), p. 71; Railway Conductor (August, 1901), pp. 
639-40; American Federationist Vol. X (October, 1903), p. 1033; The Electrical 
Worker (May, 1905), p. 40; Railroad Trainmen s Journal* Vol. XXTV (1907), 
pp. 2,645; (April, 1907), p. 368; Locomotive Firemen s Magazine, Vol. XLIV 
(January, 1908), pp. 867. 

No doubt the growing social sympathies of American academics did something to 
overcome this feeling. The American Federationist thought in 1913 that colleges 
and universities were in fact ""helping to establish a more sympathetic, democratic 
understanding of social and industrial problems." Vol. XX (February, 1913), p. 
12,9. Gompers found himself much sought after by the universities as a speaker, and 
spent considerable time cultivating good relations there. Seventy Years of Life and 
Labor, Vol. I, pp. 437 ff . 

6 See Gompers: Organized Labor: Its Struggles > Its Enemies and Fool Friends 
(Washington, 1901), pp. 3, 4; Gompers: "Machinery to Perfect the Living Ma 
chine," Federationist, Vol. XVIII (February, 1911), pp. 116-17; cf. Milton J. 
Nadworny: Scientific Management and the Unions (Cambridge, Mass., 1955), 
especially chapter 4. 


establish itself in an unfriendly environment, and before 1900 the of 
ficial intellectuals, on balance, contributed to that unfriendliness. Those 
who were not unfriendly were in any case regarded as unwise and 
unwelcome allies. It was not until the advent of the Progressive move 
ment that middle-class intellectuals in any great number were notably 
friendly to the cause of labor, and not until the New Deal era that a 
strong, if not altogether durable, alliance was forged. 7 

Over the years since the time of Gompers, the growth, success, and 
stabilization of the trade unions has made it increasingly necessary for 
these big bureaucratic hierarchies to hire experts for legal, actuarial, 
and economic advice, for research and journalism, for publicity and 
lobbying, for their own large educational divisions. In this -way, the 
men who lead the country s eighteen million organized -workers have 
become the employers of substantial staffs of intellectuals. But intel 
lectuals in union headquarters have not found a more comfortable 
home than those in other areas of organized society they have, in 
fact, a relationship to the union leaders not altogether unlike that of 
business intellectuals to corporation heads. 

Three pressures, in the main, seem to alienate the intellectual from 
the union milieu. The first, operative only for some, is a passion for 
reform, an ideological commitment that may have made the intellec 
tual want to work for a union in the first place. Sooner or later he will 
come to see that he has not made the labor movement radical but 
rather that he himself has been absorbed into the machinery that but 
tresses the power and prestige of the leaders. Inevitably, the idealism 
of the union expert is blunted, as he finds himself caught up in a going 
concern that is ready to use him but unwilling to be bent by his will. 
(Union experts who come to the job with missionary enthusiasm tend 
to be paid somewhat less than more self -centered careerists.) The sec 
ond source of alienation is his professional feeling for research, his dis 
interested desire for the truth, "which on occasion runs up against the 
necessities of the union as a militant organization or the personal im 
peratives of a leader. "They re sloppy in their use of data/* complains 
one expert about his union associates. 8 

7 On the recent partial dissolution of this alliance, see James R. Schlesinger: 
"Organized Labor and the Intellectuals/* Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. XXXVI 
( Winter, 1960 ) , pp. 36-45. 

8 For my argument here, as well as the quotations from labor leaders and labor 
experts, I am indebted to Harold L. Wilensky: Intellectuals in Labor Unions 
(Glencoe, Illinois, 1956), passim, and especially pp. 55, 57, 68, 88-90, 93, 106, 
116-20, 1351, 260-5, 266n., 2,67, 273-6. On the limitations of the power of the labor 
intellectual, see also C. Wright Mills: op. cit., pp. 281-7. 

287 Variations on a Theme 

They don t give a damn. They re philosophical relativists with 
no real belief in truth or in scientific objectivity; or at least they 
think the search for truth is too difficult, so they abandon it and 
excuse themselves from it by saying, "Who s interested in the 
truth, anyway management?" Basically, it s because they have 
a Marxist or a social reform attitude. Everything becomes a matter 
of partisan advantage. . . . All they want to do is build up the 
prejudices of the leader. ... I sometimes wish I d gone into uni 
versity teaching, 

From time to time, experts seek unwelcome truths or become the 
medium through which union leaders are brought face to face -with 
some unwelcome reality, say in the legal or economic world. In this 
capacity they are resented, much as they are needed. The labor editor 
may aspire to run an intelligent organ of critical opinion; his union 
leader may be far more concerned that the union s journal take the 
right side in factional disputes. The union educational director may 
wish to offer something akin to a liberal education for workers; the 
leader may seek only simple indoctrination and ideological safety. 

Finally, there is a type of alienation which is simply personal, which 
arises from the education and in some cases the personal culture of the 
expert. He is out of place, he is not the right kind of man, he would 
not be sought after as a companion if his services weren t needed. 
Mumbled complaints pursue him in the union offices, just as though he 
were actually on the assembly line or for that matter at a Rotary 
Club meeting: "Prima donna types . . . you can t work together with 
them. . . . They aren t liked. . . . They re not the same Joes. They 
don t like the same kind of women. . . , lj 

The attitude of labor leaders toward labor intellectuals displays an 
ambivalence somewhat similar to that found in the business community 
and in society at large. Harold Wilensky has found in his study of labor 
experts that the labor leader is sometimes intimidated or overawed 
by the specialized knowledge of the intellectual, and often admires it. 
But he reassures himself with disdainful remarks about the impractical- 
ity of the expert, if not about his oddities. One high-ranking union of 
ficer who boasted: "I was educated in the school of hard knocks," voiced 
these mixed feelings when he said with equal pride: "I ve told my son 
to take up labor law in college!" In some areas the non-intellectual is 
afflicted by a nagging envy of the expert s job: "Why, that S.OJB., he s 
got the soft job. ... I knock myself out taking crap from the rank and 


file, I gotta go out to local meetings night after night while he sits be 
hind a desk and writes up all that stuff." (Like the businessman, the 
union leader loudly praises practical experience first-hand acquaint 
ance with the workbench or with union organizing activity. "You can t 
learn it from books. There s no substitute for experience/* He was in the 
struggle from the beginning; the expert is an outsider and a Johnny- 
come-lately who cannot understand the labor struggle or the psychol 
ogy of the worker because he has not dealt with it at first hand. "Your 
whole thinking on this matter ... is fantastic. You are a legal mind; 
you are from Harvard, or Yale, or some other place like the rest of the 
guys up there, and you don t understand the thinking of the workers." 
Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that the experts at times 
give way to a feeling of self-distrust and adopt a quietistic pose or at 
tempt to camouflage themselves. The atmosphere in which they work 
may be in many ways stimulating and benign, but, according to a 
student of experts in the labor bureaucracy, one of its components is a 
"pervasive anti-intellectualism." 9 


It is hardly surprising that the organized labor movement in America, 
directed as it is toward "bourgeois" goals, has provided intellectuals 
with an environment that is not thoroughly congenial. It is somewhat 
more surprising to find similar problems arising in the non-Communist 
left, and especially in the Socialist Party, whose debt to intellectuals 
was heavy indeed. It would be altogether misleading to suggest that 
the Socialist Party in its day was an anti-intellectual force, or that it 
was inhospitable to intellectuals. From 1900 to 1914, the American So 
cialist Party attracted a large number of intellectuals whose support 
was invaluable and whose writings brought it cachet and greatly wid 
ened its influence. Among them were not only muckrakers like Upton 
Sinclair and John^Spargo^put the authors of stimulating critical books 
about socialism and various aspects of American life which are still 
worth reading men like[ Louis B. Boudiij/W. J. Ghent, Robert Hunter, 
Algie M. Simons, and William English Walling^ Unlike the later Com 
munist Party, the Socialist Party maintained an intellectual atmosphere 
that was far from monolithic, and produced a theoretical literature not 
entirely cramped by Marxian scholasticism. American socialism, plural 
istic in its social recruitment, was still free and even adventurous in 
9 Wilensky: op. cit., pp. 269, 276. 

2,Sg Variations on a Theme 

thought, and some of Its supporters brought to it a light-spirited Bohe 
mian touch. "The Masses" one of its periodicals advertised, "has a 
Sense of Humor, , . . Enjoy the Revolution/ 

But in some quarters even the Socialist Party suffered from the cult 
of proletarianism, In the party s frequent factional fights, intellectual 
spokesmen -were often branded as middle-class academics and were 
compared invidiously with the true proletarians who were the bulwark 
of the movement. (When revolutionary fervor was in question, the 
intellectuals were found in the left-wing faction much more often than 
in the right.) Inevitably, the attempt of socialist intellectuals, often 
from solid middle-class and sometimes from wealthy backgrounds, 1 to 
declass themselves spiritually and to accommodate to the proletarian 
ideals of Marxism led to a certain self -depreciation and self -alienation.} 
Hence, the anti-intellectual wing of the party was not without its 
intellectual spokesmen. 2 One of them, W. J. Ghent, thought that the 
Masses, with its latitudrn arian enthusiasms, was far too frivolous to 
contribute seriously to the fundamental business of converting workers 
to socialism: 

It has found no trouble in mixing Socialism, Anarchism, Com 
munism, Sinn Feinism, Cubism, sexism, direct action, and sabotage 
into a more or less harmonious mess. It is peculiarly the product of 
the restless metropolitan coteries who devote themselves to the 
cult of Something Else; who are ever seeking the bubble Novelty 
even at the door of Bedlam. 

Another intellectual, Robert Rives La Monte, felt that although the 
party needed brains in abundance, brains should not be identified 
with the possession of "a conventional bourgeois education," and con 
cluded that the existence of "a reasonable degree of suspicion of 

1 Finley Peter Dunne was much amused by the interest of a few of the rich in 
socialism. "Mrs. Vanderhankerbilk," said Mr. Dooley , "Give a musical soree f r th 
ladies iv th* Female Billyonaires Arbeiter Verein. . . . Th* meetin* was addhressed 
be th* well-known Socialist leader, J. Clarence Lurnley, heir to th* Lumley millyons. 
This well-known prolytariat said he had become a Socialist through studyin* his 
father. He cud not believe that a system was right which allowed such a man to ac- 
cumylate three hundherd millyon dollars. . . . Th ladies prisint cud appreciate how 
foolish th captains iv industhree are, because they were marrid to thim an* knew 
what they looked like in th mornin*. . . . Th* meetin* thin adjourned afther 
passin* a resolution callin on th* husband iv th* hostess to go an* jump in th* river." 
Finley Peter Dunne: Mr. Dooley: Now and Forever (Stanford, California, 1954), 
pp. 252-3. 

2 Charles Dobbs, writing on "Brains** in the International Socialist Review, Vol. 
VIII (March, 1908), p. 533, noticed that "it is the intellectuals who are attacking 
the intellectuals* and the leaders* who are delivering the mightiest blows at leader 
ship/ " 


Intellectuals and Parlor Socialists" was a "most reassuring sign that the 
proletariat are approaching maturity as a class. 7 3 With this a right-wing 
party wheelhorse like George H. Goebel could agree. When it came 
to a choice between the intellectual, preacher, or professor and the 
working man, "that man who is fresh from the ranks of the working 
class and who in his every day life is in actual contact with the work 
and the struggle/* Goebel said, he was always with the representative 
of the working class. 4 

The most extreme anti-intellectual position in the party a veritable 
proletarian mucker pose was taken not by the right-wingers nor by 
the self-alienated intellectuals but by Western party members affected 
by the LW.W. spirit. The Oregon wing of the party, one of its strong 
Western segments, was a good example of this spirit. The story is told 
that at the party s 1912 convention in Indianapolis the Oregon delegates 
refused to have dinner in a restaurant that had tablecloths. Thomas 
Sladden, their state secretary., once removed the cuspidors from the 
Oregon headquarters because he felt that hardboiled tobacco-chewing 
proletarians would have no use for such genteel devices. It was Slad 
den, too, who in the International Socialist Review wrote an implacable 
challenge to the intellectuals. As he saw it, the movement belonged to 
the worker and to no one else. The Socialist Party and the labor unions 
"must either give way to, or take up arms against the man that thinks 
through his stomach/ " Sladden delineated the true socialist proletarian 
in these terms: 5 

He has a language of his own, different from the accepted 
language of civilization, he is uncultured and uncouth in ap 
pearance, he has a code of morals and ethics as yet unrecognized 

3 David Shannon: The Socialist Party of America (New York, 1955), p. 57; 
Robert R. La Monte: "Efficient Brains versus Bastard Culture/* International 
Socialist Review, Vol. VIII (April, 1908), pp. 634, 636. On intellectuals in the 
socialist movement, see Shannon: op. cit., pp. 8, 12, 19, 53-8, 2812; Daniel Bell: 
"The Background and Development of Marxian Socialism in the United States/ in 
Donald Drew Egbert and Stow Persons, eds.: Socialism and American Life (Prince 
ton, 195^)> Vol. I, pp. 294-8; Ira Kapnis: The American Socialist Movement, 1897 
1Q12 (New York, 1952), pp. 307-11, and Bell s review of this work in The New 
Leader, December 7, 1953. 

4 Bell: "Background and Development/* p. 294. Cf. the attack by the right- 
wing leader, Max Hayes, on parlor socialists and theorists in the party convention of 
1912. Socialist Party of America, Convention Proceedings, 1912 (Chicago, 1912), 
p. 124. 

5 "The Revolutionist,** International Socialist Review? Vol. IX ( December, 
1908), pp. 429-30. On Sladden, see Shannon: op. cit., p. 40; for an answer to 
Sladden by a socialist who considered that the proletariat embraced the intellec 
tuals, see Carl D. Thompson: "Who Constitute the Proletariat?" International 
Socialist Review, Vol. IX (February, 1909), pp. 60312. 

2.g i Variations on a Theme 

by society, he has a religion unpreached in orthodox and un 
orthodox churches, a religion of hate. . . . He has an intelligence 
which passes the understanding o the intellectuals who are born, 
reared and living outside his sphere. 

Like the instinct of the brute in the forest, his vision is clear and 
he is ever on the alert, his hearing is keen, his nature suspicious, 
his spirit is unconquerable. . . . With one swoop he will tear 
away your puny intellectuality, your bogus respectability and as 
master of all he surveys he \vlll determine what is right and what 

This is the proletarian. . . . He has little education, no man 
ners, and little care for what people think of him. His school has 
been the hard school of human experience. 

Here the cult of proletarianism seems blended with a variety of 
primitivism of the sort another Westerner, Jack London, tried unsuc 
cessfully to graft onto the socialist movement. /More typical of the 
feelings of non-intellectuals in the Socialist Party was the moderate 
position of its leader, Eugene V. Debs. Observing that there were 
many socialists "who sneer at a man of intellect as if he were an inter 
loper and out of place among Socialists," Debs remonstrated that 
intellectual ought not be a term of reproach. The movement needed 
brains; the party should seek to attract them. What -was important to 
Debs -was that normally "officials and representatives, and candidates 
for public office, should be chosen from the ranks of the workers. The 
intellectuals in office should be the exceptions, as they are in the rank 
and file." Organizations of workers should not be run by intellectuals, 
just as organizations of intellectuals should not be run by workers. Debs 
considered that workers had ample ability to fill the official positions 
themselves. His fear of intellectuals in official posts was consistent 
with his fear of stratification and bureaucracy within the socialist 
movement. Like a good Jacksonian, he acknowledged his belief in 
"rotation in office." "I confess," he said, "to a prejudice against official 
ism and a dread of bureaucracy." 6 


Whereas the Socialist Party had admitted some measure of diversity, 
the Communist Party was monolithic: it wanted no writers who would 

6 "Sound Socialist Tactics," International Socialist Review, Vol. XII ( February, 
1912-), pp. 483-4. Three years after these remarks Robert Michels published his 
Political Parties, an analysis of oligarchical tendencies in European left-wing parties. 


not subject themselves to its characteristic rigid discipline. Moreover, 
the intellectuals who were drawn to the Socialist Party during its most 
vital period, before the First World War, were mainly thinkers in 
dependently acquainted with Marxism, who took over leadership in 
the party ranks as theorists. The Communist Party attracted a far 
higher proportion of creative writers and literary critics, who knew lit 
tle or nothing of Marxism or of the formal social disciplines and were 
willing, at least for a time, to submit themselves to the tutelage and 
discipline of the party apparatus. Within the Communist Party, as its 
intellectual influence widened during the 1930*3, certain anti-intellec 
tual tendencies, notably the cult of proletarianism, which had been 
hardly more than visible in the Socialist Party, became actually domi 
nant. The change in the balance of moral power was dramatic: in So 
cialist Party circles one senses the discomfort of true proletarians at the 
thought that the intellectuals among them wielded so much influence; 
in Communist Party circles one is aware of the anguish of party or fel 
low-traveling intellectuals because they are not, by occupation or 
birth, workers themselves. 

Earlier American radicals, like Edward Bellamy and Henry Dem- 
arest Lloyd, had sometimes taken a slightly condescending and cus 
todial attitude toward the working class; but in the 1930*3 a number 
of American writers gave way to the fatally maudlin notion that the 
sufferings and the "historic mission * of the working class endow it with 
an immense inherent moral superiority over middle-class intellectuals. 
To atone for their tainted class origins and their middle-class character, 
many such intellectuals felt they must immolate themselves on the altar 
of the working class by service of one kind or another to the party /The 
Communist Party itself, keenly aware of the usefulness of its intellectual 
converts and at the same time of the danger that might be posed to its 
discipline by an influx of independent minds, adopted the strategy of 
exploiting the guilt and self -hatred of intellectuals as a means of keep 
ing them in line^Oh one hand, it provided them with a creed and gave 
them a small but growing audience; on the other, it attempted to play 
upon their psychological vulnerability to prevent them from straying. 
This policy had mixed results; the most distinguished writers, whose 
prestige the party particularly coveted Dreiser, Sinclair, Steinbeck, 
Hemingway, MacLeish, Dos Passes proved to be the most refractory, 
the most unwilling to follow tamely the decrees of obscure party hack^ r 
Lesser writers, less self-confident and more dependent upon the public 
party could give them, were more submissive, though not always 

293 Variations on a Theme 

submissive enough for the party s purposes. Paul Rosenfeld had writers 
like these in mind when he complained in 1933 that they had re 
nounced their responsibilities as artists and were competing "as to 
which could most quickly reconcile himself with the philistinism which 
the Communist party shares with every other party. * 7 

If the true spirit of Bolshevik discipline was to be instilled in radical 
American writers, the Bohemianism that had flowered in the days of 
the Masses had to be destroyed. Writers must be made to feel that 
Bohemianism and all forms of merely personal revolt were unserious, 
trivial, neurotic. John Reed, once a Bohemian himself, led the way. 
"This class struggle," he said, "plays hell with your poetry"; and if it did, 
no doubt poetry would have to go. "Bolshevism," he declared on an 
other occasion, "is not for the intellectuals; it is for the people." "You 
fellows/ he remarked to a Menshevik theorist, "are not living beings; 
at best you are bookworms always thinking about what Marx said or 
meant to say. What we want is a revolution, and we are going to make 
it not with books, but with rifles." Reed did not live long enough to 
demonstrate how far he would have carried the implications of this 
creed. After his death, the role of goad to the intellectuals was assumed 
by Michael Gold, for many years the party s critical hatchetman. 
Gold had succeeded more fully than most left intellectuals in de- 
classing and deintellectualizing himself. 8 Floyd Dell, a party sym 
pathizer but an incurable Bohemian, perceived that Gold, as a literary 
man, "is for some obscure reason ashamed of not being a workingman. 
. . . And so he is in awe of the workingman when he meets him, and 
says extravagant things in praise of him." To a generation of writers 
younger than Dell, the reasons for this shame and awe were not so 

r The Communist view of the intellectual s function brought forth 
certain ironic variations on the themes of practicality, masculinity, and 
primitivism that run through the national code at large; and it is amus 
ing to see how, with a few changes in terms, the party code is similar 

7 Quoted in Daniel Aaron: Writers on the Left (New York, 1961), pp. 2545. I 
ha^e drawn heavily for my argument and illustrations on this thorough and percep 
tive study, and the quotations and incidents in the following paragraphs are from 
pp. 2,5, 41, 65, 93-4, 132*1., 162, 1634, 168, 209, 21012, 216, 227, 2402, 254, 
308, 3378, 346, 409, 410, 417, 425. The attitude of the Communist Party toward 
intellectuals was far more rigid before 1935, when it adopted the "united front " 
line, than afterwards. 

8 Gold, who was as impeccably anti-Harvard as any McCarthyite of the 195* S > 
was impelled to deny his brief attendance there. " Certain enemies have spread the 
slander that I once attended Harvard College. This is a lie. I worked on a garbage 
dump in Boston, city of Harvard. But that is all." 


to certain attitudes expressed by businessmen. The important task 
was a ruggedly practical one to make a revolution. Everything else 
was subordinate; art and intellect were useless if they could not be 
put to work. Writers who failed to serve the revolution were accused, 
in the party s characteristic imagery, of being literary prostitutes to the 
bourgeoisie: they were "the most ancient and venerable of prostitutes, 
and (in the language of a young -writer of impeccable proletarian 
origins) "literary vermin . . . who play the scented whore, and for 
thirty pieces of silver, will do the hootchi-kootchi dance, or wriggle their 
abdomens in imitation of legendary oriental ladies/ 

The making of revolutions was a task that called not only for greater 
moral purity but for a kind of heavy masculinity that too many writers 
lacked. Again, the practical and masculine demands of politics were 
contrasted with the futility of estheticism. One writer was taken aback 
when a party leader referred to his poetry and short stories as his 
"hobby" for after-hours activity a revealing illustration of the party s 
conception of letters as fundamentally unserious. Worst of all was the 
failure of masculinity in writers who would not deal with the hard 
realities of the class struggle. Party intellectuals differed over the mat 
ter, but the most rugged of them were unsparing in their denuncia 
tion of what they called, in their crusade against the literary Humanists, 
"fairy literature." Michael Gold once told Sinclair Lewis that writers of 
this sort were nursing a "mad jealousy" because they had been "de 
prived of masculine experiences/ In the course of a famous literary 
vendetta against Thornton Wilder, Gold accused the novelist of 
propagating a "pastel, pastiche, dilettante religion, without the true 
neurotic blood and fire, a daydream of homosexual figures in graceful 
gowns moving archaically among the lilies/ 

In their most extreme moments, those who tried to formulate a Com 
munist canon for literature called for working-class writers who would 
supply the "Proletarian Realism" ( Gold s phrase) that bourgeois writers 
allegedly failed to produce. Let the Neto Masses., the party organ, be 
written and read by lumberjacks, hoboes, miners, clerks, sectionhands, 
machinists, harvesthands, waiters the people who should count more 
to us than paid scribblers," urged one of these working-class writers. "It 
might be crude stuff but we re just about done primping before a 
mirror and powdering our shiny noses. Who are we afraid of? Of the 
critics? Afraid that they will say the Neiv Masses prints terribly Tin- 
grammatical stuff? Hell, brother, the newsstands abound with neat 
packages of grammatical offal.T Such utterances tended to drive writers 

Variations on a Theme 

away from the movement. They were alienated by what one of them 
called "the affectation of idealized proletarianism, the monotonous 
strumming on the hard-boiled string, the hostility to ideas on other 
levels than one, the contempt for modulated writing and criticism., the 
evasion of discussion." ! 

These differences were indicative of a major problem faced by the 
party in dealing with writers and other intellectuals: the conflict be 
tween its urgent desire to use them and its inability to sustain a tone 
that would hold them. Even Michael Gold, whose polemical extrava 
gances did as much as anything to keep otherwise sympathetic intel 
lectuals at arm s length from the party, at times grew restless with the 
attitude of party leaders toward writers. He once admitted that intel 
lectuals were too commonly made to feel that they were outsiders: 
"The word intellectual became a synonym for the word Tbastard/ 
and in the American Communist movement there is some of this feel 
ing." Members of the party were not above exploiting this feeling 
about intellectuals as a weapon in internal struggles: during a factional 
fight in the twenties, Joseph Freeman has recalled, the Foster group 
attacked the Lovestone group in a word-of -mouth campaign on the 
ground, among others, that they were college men, bourgeois, and 
Jews. The feeling had astonishing consequences. Malcolm Cowley, 
writing during the Moscow trials from his post as a fellow-traveling 
editor of a major metropolitan non-party weekly, said of Trotsky in all 
seriousness: "I have never liked the big-city intellectuals of his type, 
with their reduction of every human question to a bald syllogism in 
which they are always right at every point. . . ." 

For a time, if only a brief time in the life of most radical writers, 
the canons of the party were accepted, and with them the corollary 
that the intellectuals, and the institutions that had reared them, were 
no good. "I think we are all of us a pretty milky lot," John Dos Passos 
wrote during the First World War, "with our tea-table convictions and 
our radicalism that keeps so consistently within the bounds of de 
corum. . . . I d like to annihilate these stupid colleges of ours, and all 
the nice young men therein, instillers of stodginess every form of 
bastard culture, middle class snobism." Genevieve Taggard, deferring 
to the urgent "practical" task of revolution, felt that writers were use 

Practical men run revolutions, and there s nothing more irri 
tating than a person with a long vague look in his eye to have 


around, when you re trying to bang an army into shape, or put 
over a N.EJP. If I were in charge of a revolution, I d get rid of 
every single artist immediately; and trust to luck that the fecun 
dity of the earth would produce another crop when I had got some 
of the hard work done. Being an artist, I have the sense that a 
small child has when its mother is in the middle of house-work. 
I don t intend to get in the way, and I hope that there ll be an 
unmolested spot for me when things have quieted down. 

Many writers had entered the movement in the belief that the revolt 
against the bourgeois world would be, for them at least, a revolt against 
its disrespect for culture. But whichever world one might choose, 
there was always a prior practical job to be done bourgeois indus 
trialization or a New Economic Policy, the quest for individual success 
or the need to "bang" an army into shape. 


Education in a 

[ 299 1 


The School and the Teacher 


ANYONE who speaks of anti-intellectualism as a quality in Amer 
ican life must reckon with one of the signal facts of our national ex 
perience our persistent, intense, and sometimes touching faith in the 
efficacy of popular education. Few observers, past or present, have 
doubted the pervasiveness or sincerity of this faith. Henry Steele 
Commager, assessing the primary characteristics of the nineteenth- 
century American, remarks that "education was his religion" though 
he is quick to add that Americans expected of education what 
they expected of religion, that it "be practical and pay dividends." * 
The Americans were the first other people in modern history to follow 
the Prussian example in establishing free common-school systems. 
Among their earliest statutes were land ordinances setting aside a 
portion of the public domain to support school systems. Their rapidly 
proliferating schoolhouses and libraries testified to their concern for 
the diffusion of knowledge, and their lyceums and Chautauquas 
showed that this concern, far from ending -with the school years, ex 
tended to the education of adults. 

From the beginning, American statesmen had insisted upon the 
necessity of education to a republic. George Washington, in his Fare 
well Address, urged the people to promote "institutions for the general 
diffusion of knowledge." To the degree that the form of government 
gave force to public opinion, Washington argued, "it is essential that 

1 Henry Steele Commager: The American Mind (New Haven, 1950), p. 10; 
cf . pp. 37-8. Rush Welter: Popular Education and Democratic Thought in America 
(New York, 1962), is an informative study of what Americans expected from 


public opinion should be enlightened." The aging Jefferson warned in 
1816: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civiliza 
tion, it expects what never was and never will be." The young Lincoln, 
making his first appeal to a constituency, told the voters of Sangamon 
County in 1832 that education was "the most important subject which 
we as a people can be engaged in." 2 The image of the youthful Lincoln 
lying before a log fire and reading a book by its flickering light has been 
fixed as an ideal in the minds of millions of school children (who are 
not, I believe, pressed to consider what he may have been reading ) . 
In popular rhetoric it was always good practice for an editor or orator 
who wanted to take off on an extended flight of idealism to pay 
tribute to education. "If the time shall ever come/ wrote a small-town 
Midwestern editor in 

when this mighty fabric shall totter; when the beacon of joy that 
now rises in pillar of fire . . . shall wax dim, the cause will be 
found in the ignorance of the people. If our union is still to con 
tinue . . . ; if your fields are to be untrod by the hirelings of 
despotism; if long days of blessedness are to attend our country 
in her career of glory; if you \vould have the sun continue to shed 
his unclouded rays upon the face of freemen, then EDUCATE 
ALL THE CHILDREN OF THE LAND. This alone startles the 
tyrant in his dreams of power, and rouses the slumbering energies 
of an oppressed people. It was intelligence that reared up the 
majestic columns of national glory; and this and sound morality 
alone can prevent their crumbling to ashes. 

But if we turn from the rhetoric of the past to the realities of the 
present, we are most struck by the volume of criticism suggesting that 
something very important has been missing from the American passion 
for education. A host of educational problems has arisen from indiffer 
ence underpaid teachers, overcrowded classrooms, double-schedule 
schools, broken-down school buildings, inadequate facilities and a num 
ber of other failings that come from something else the cult of 
athleticism, marching bands, high-school drum majorettes, ethnic 

2 Washington, in Richardson, ed. : Messages and Papers of the Presidents., Vol. I, 
p. 2,2,0; Jefferson: Writings, P. L. Ford, ed., Vol. X (New York, 1899), p. 4; Lin 
coln; Collected Works, Roy P. Easier, ed., Vol. I (New Brunswick, New Jersey, 

^953 )>P- 8. 

3 R. Carlyle Buley: The Old Northwest Pioneer Period, 1.82.5-1.840 (Indi 
anapolis, 1950), Vol. II, p. 416. 

301 The School and the Teacher 

ghetto schools, de-intellectualized curricula, the failure to educate in 
serious subjects, the neglect of academically gifted children. At times 
the schools of the country seem to be dominated by athletics, com 
mercialism, and the standards of the mass media, and these extend 
upwards to a system of higher education whose worst failings were 
underlined by the bold president of the University of Oklahoma who 
hoped to develop a university of which the football team could be 
proud. 4 Certainly some ultimate educational values seem forever to be 
eluding the Americans. At great effort and expense they send an 
extraordinary proportion of their young to colleges and universities; 
but their young, when they get there, do not seem to care even to 
read. 5 

That something has always been seriously missing in our educational 
performance, despite the high promise of our rhetoric, has been evi 
dent to the educators who have taken our hopes most seriously. The his 
tory of our educational writing poses a formidable challenge to those 
modern educational critics who yield too readily to nostalgia for good 
old days that apparently were never too good. The educational writing 
that has been left to us by men whose names command our respect is 
to a remarkable degree a literature of acid criticism and bitter com 
plaint. Americans would create a common-school system, but would 
balk at giving it adequate support. They would stand close to the 
vanguard among the countries of the world in the attempt to diffuse 
knowledge among the people, and then engage drifters and misfits as 
teachers and offer them the wages of draymen. 

The history of American educational reformers often seems to be the 
history of men fighting against an uncongenial environment. The edu 
cational jeremiad is as much a feature of our literature as the jeremiad 
in the Puritan sermons. That this literature should have been one of 
complaint is not in itself surprising, for complaint is the burden of 
anyone who aims at improvement; but there is a constant undercurrent 
of something close to despair. Moreover, one finds it not only on the 

4 An impressive brief critique of these failings may be found in Robert M. Hutch- 
ins: Some Observations on American Education ( Cambridge, 1956). 

5 On American reading, in and out of college, see Lester Asheim: **A Survey of 
Recent Research," in Jacob M. Price, ed.: Reading for Life (Ann Arbor, Michigan, 
1959); Gordon Dupee: "Can Johnny s Parents Read?" Saturday Review, June 2,, 


educational frontiers of the West, or in darkest Mississippi, but in 
Massachusetts, the state that stood first in the development of the 
common-school system and has never lost her place among the leading 
states in education. Yet, in this state, the educational reformer James 
Gordon Carter warned in 1826 that if the legislature did not change its 
policies the common schools would be extinct within twenty years. 6 
The criticisms made by Horace Mann about one of the nation s 
best school systems during his years as secretary of the Massachusetts 
Board of Education after 1837 are illuminating. Schoolhouses, he said, 
were too small, and ill-situated; school committees, to save money, had 
neglected to insure uniformity in the textbooks, with the consequence 
that a single class might be using as many as eight or ten manuals in a 
given subject; school committees were neither well paid nor accorded 
social recognition; one portion of the community was so apathetic 
about education that it would do nothing for the school system, but the 
wealthier portion had given up on the common schools and were 
sending their children to private institutions; many towns neglected 
to comply with the state s school requirements; there was an "extensive 
want of competent teachers for the Common Schools," but the existing 
teachers, however ill-equipped, were "as good as public opinion has 
demanded"; there was "an obvious want of intelligence in the reading- 
classes"; "the schools have retrograded within the last generation or 
half generation in regard to orthography"; "more than eleven-twelfths 
of all the children in the reading-classes in our schools do not under 
stand the meaning of the words they read." He was afraid that "ne 
glectful school committees, incompetent teachers, and an indifferent 
public, may go on degrading each other" until the whole idea of free 
schools would be abandoned, 7 

6 Essays upon Popular Education ( Boston, 1826 ) , p. 41. 

7 Horace Mann: Lectures and Annual Reports on Education, Vol. I (Cambridge, 
1867 ), pp. 396, 403-4, 4o8, 413, 422, 506-7, 532, 539. Of considerable interest is 
Manns report of 1843, in which he made extensive comparisons with Prussian 
education. There, he remarked, "the teacher s profession holds such a high rank in 
public estimation, that none who have failed in other employments or departments 
of business are encouraged to look upon school-keeping as an ultimate resource. * 
Life and Works, Vol. Ill (Boston, 1891), pp. 266 ff. and especially pp. 346-8. 
Francis Bowen, Harvard s professor of moral philosophy, concurred with Mann s 
views; the New England school system, he said, looking backward in 1857, "had 
degenerated into routine, it was starved by parsimony. Any hovel would answer for 
a school-house, any primer would do for a text-book, any farmer s apprentice was 
competent to *teach school/" American Journal of Education, Vol. IV (Septem 
ber, 1857), p. 14. 

303 The School and the Teacher 

The complaints continued, and the plaintive note spread from New 
England to the country at large. In 1870, when the country was on the 
eve of a great forward surge in secondary education, William Franklin 
PhelpSj then head of a normal school in Winona, Minnesota, and later a 
president of the National Education Association, declared: 8 

They [the elementary schools] are mainly in the hands of 
ignorant, unskilled teachers. The children are fed upon the mere 
husks of knowledge. They leave school for the broad theater of 
life without discipline; without mental power or moral stamina. 
. . . Poor schools and poor teachers are in a majority throughout 
the country. Multitudes of the schools are so poor that it would 
be as well for the country if they were closed. . . . They afford 
the sad spectacle of ignorance engaged in the stupendous fraud of 
self-perpetuation at the public expense. . . . Hundreds of our 
American schools are little less than undisciplined juvenile mobs. 

In 1892 Joseph M. Rice toured the country to examine its school sys 
tems and reported the same depressing picture in city after city, with 
only a few welcome exceptions: education was a creature of ward 
politics; ignorant politicians hired ignorant teachers; teaching was an 
uninspired thing of repetitive drill. 9 Ten ye ars later, when the 
Progressive movement was barely under way, the New York Sun had a 
different kind of complaint: x 

When we were boys, boys had to do a little work in school. 
They were not coaxed; they were hammered. Spelling, writing, 
and arithmetic were not electives, and you had to learn. In these 
more fortunate times, elementary education has become in many 
places a vaudeville show. The child must be kept amused, and 
learns what he pleases. Many sage teachers scorn the old-fash 
ioned rudiments, and it seems to be regarded as between a mis 
fortune and a crime for a child to learn to read. 

8 NEA Proceedings, 1870, pp. 13, 17. For a series o complaints similar to these, 
and ranging from 1865 to 1915, see Edgar B. Wesley: N.E.A.: The First Hundred 
Years (New York, i957) pp* 138-43- 

9 The Public School System of the United States ( New York, 1893 ) . 

1 Marian G, Valentine: "William H. Maxwell and Progressive Education," 
School and Society, LXXV (June 7, 1952), p. 354. Complaints of this order began 
to emerge at this time as a response to the new education. See the remarks of Lys 
D Aimee as quoted in R. Freeman Butts and Lawrence Cremin: A History of 
Education in American Culture (New York, 1953), PP- 385-6. 


A generation later, after the nation had developed its great mass 
system of secondary education, and education itself had become highly 
professionalized, Thomas H. Briggs of Teachers College, delivering his 
Inglis Lecture at Harvard, assessed the nation s "great investment" 
in secondary education and concluded that it had gone sadly awry. 
"There has been no respectable achievement/* he observed, "even in 
the subjects offered in the secondary school curricula." Performance 
in mathematics, he thought, was of the sort which, applied in business, 
would lead to bankruptcy or the penitentiary. Only half the students 
could find the area of a circle, when given the value of pi and all 
necessary data. Students of foreign languages acquired neither the 
ability to read nor the ability to communicate. Only half the students 
who had completed a year s study of high-school French could translate 
Je nai parle a personne; and only one fifth of the pupils who elected 
French took more than two years of the language. In Latin, the results 
were as bad. A year s study of ancient history yielded students who 
could not tell who Solon was; and after a year of American history, 
students were unable to define the Monroe Doctrine even though 
both subjects were stressed in these courses. Courses in English failed 
to produce in the majority any "permanent taste for -what is called 
standard literature" and brought results in written English that were 
"in a large fraction of the cases shocking in their evidence of in 
adequate achievement/ 7 2 

Today we live in the age of systematic surveys., and the evidences 
of our various educational failures have accumulated to the point at 
which documentation is futile. 3 The widest range of difference exists 
with regard to the practical meaning of this evidence. Many profes 
sional educationists welcome it as further proof of their contention that 
the traditional course of studies is unsuited to vast numbers of children 
in a system of mass education. Critics of the educational system argue 
that these findings simply show the need to return to higher standards 
and to improve our educational morale. Concerning the central fact 
of educational failure there is relatively slight dispute; and the failure 
itself underlines one of the paradoxes of American life: that in a society 

2 Thomas H. Briggs : The Great Investment: Secondary Education in a Democ 
racy (Cambridge, Mass., 1930), pp. 124-8. 

3 My favorite among such surveys is one Los Angeles made of 30,000 of its 
school children in 1951. Among other things, it showed that almost one of every 
seven eighth graders could not find the Atlantic Ocean on a map, and that ap 
proximately the same proportion of eleventh graders (aged sixteen to eighteen), 
could not calculate 50 per cent of 36. Time, December 10, 1951, pp. 934* 

305 The School and the Teacher 

so passionately intent upon education, tihe yield of our educational 
system has been such a constant disappointment. 

. 3 

We may., of course, nourish the suspicion that there is something mis 
leading about these findings and criticisms. Is not the history of con 
stant complaint by school authorities and educational reformers simply 
a sign of healthy self-criticism? Were not many of these complaints 
followed by reforms? If the American public educational system is 
measured not by some abstract standards of perfection but by the goals 
for which it was originally established, must it not be considered a 
success? On this count there is undoubtedly much to be said. The 
American system of common schools was meant to take a vast, hetero 
geneous, and mobile population, recruited from manifold sources and 
busy with manifold tasks, and forge it into a nation, make it literate, 
and give it at least the minimal civic competence necessary to the 
operation of republican institutions. This much it did; and if in the 
greater part of the nineteenth century the United States did not 
astound the world with its achievements in high culture, its schools 
at least helped to create a common level of opinion and capacity that 
was repeatedly noticed with admiration by foreign observers. 

Here no doubt the American educational creed itself needs further 
scrutiny. The belief in mass education was not founded primarily 
upon a passion for the development of mind, or upon pride in learning 
and culture for their own sakes, but rather upon the supposed political 
and economic benefits of education. No doubt leading scholars and 
educational reformers like Horace Mann did care for the intrinsic 
values of mind. But in trying to persuade influential men or the 
general public of the importance of education, they were careful in 
the main to point out the possible contributions of education to public 
order, political democracy, or economic improvement. They under 
stood that the most irresistible way to "sell" education was to stress its 
role not in achieving a high culture but in forging an acceptable form 
of democratic society. They adopted and fixed upon the American 
mind the idea that under popular government popular education is an 
absolute necessity. To the rich, who were often wary of its cost, they 
presented popular education as the only alternative to public disorder, 
to an unskilled and ignorant labor force, to mis government, crime, and 
radicalism. To the people of middle and lower classes they presented 


it as the foundation o popular power, the door to opportunity, the 
great equalizer in the race for success. 4 

As to the vast, inarticulate body of the American public, it is im 
possible to be certain exactly what it expected from the school system, 
other than an opportunity for the advancement of its children. That the 
development of intellectual power was not a central concern seems 
clear, but there is also some evidence that the anti-intellectualism 
I have already characterized in religion, politics, and business found 
its way into school practice. There seems to have been a prevailing 
concern that children should not form too high an estimate of the 
uses of mind. Ruth Miller Elson s recent researches in the content of 
nineteenth-century schoolbooks indicate that the compilers of school 
readers tried to inculcate in the children attitudes toward intellect, art, 
and learning which, we have already seen, were widely prevalent in 
adult society. 5 The old school readers contained a considerable pro 
portion of good literature, but even at their best the selections were 
hardly chosen because they would inculcate the values of creative 

As Mrs. Elson remarks, the primary intellectual value these books 
embodied was utility. As an early reader said: "We are all scholars of 
useful knowledge/ Jedidiah Morse s famous geography boasted: 
"While many other nations are wasting the brilliant efforts of genius in 
monuments of ingenious folly, to perpetuate their pride, the Ameri 
cans, according to the true spirit of republicanism, are employed al 
most entirely in works of public and private utility." Authors of school- 
books were proud of the democratic diffusion of knowledge in America 
and were quite content to pay the price of not having so many ad 
vanced or profound scholars. "There are none of those splendid estab 
lishments such as Oxford and Cambridge in which immense salaries 
maintain the professors of literature in monastic idleness. . . . The 
People of this country have not yet been inclined to make much 

4 The arguments used by educational reformers are discussed by Lawrence 
Cremin: The American Common School (New York, 1951); Merle Curti: The 
Social Ideas of American Educators (New York, 1935); and Sidney L. Jackson: 
America s Struggle for Free Schools (Washington, 1940). One of the most illumi 
nating documents of American social history is Robert Carlton [Baynard Rush 
Hall]: The Neu> Purchase, or Seven and a Half Years in the Far West (1843; 
Indiana Centennial ed., Princeton, 1916); it is full of information about folk atti 
tudes toward education in the old Midwest. 

5 I am much enlightened by Mrs. Elson s article, "American Schoolbooks and 
Culture* in the Nineteenth Century/ Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 
XL VI (December, 1959), pp. 411-34; the quotations in the following paragraphs 
are taken from this essay, pp. 413, 414, 417, 419, 4^1, 42,2, 425, 434. 

307 The School and the Teacher 

literary display they have rather aimed at works of general utility." A 
similar pride was expressed that American colleges and universities, 
unlike those of Europe, were not devoted simply to the acquisition of 
knowledge but to the moral cultivation of their students. The Ameri 
can college was complacently portrayed as a place designed to form 
character and inculcate sound principle rather than to lead to the 
pursuit of truth. 

The common school was thought to have been designed for a similar 
purpose. "Little children/* said Alice Gary in a selection used in a third 
reader of 1882, "you must seek rather to be good than wise.** "Man s 
intellect," said another writer, "is not man s sole nor best adorning/* 
The virtues of the heart were consistently exalted over those of the 
head, and this preference found its way into the hero literature of the 
school readers. European heroes might be haughty aristocrats, soldiers 
destructive on the battlefield, or "great scholars who were pensioned 
flatterers of power, and poets, who profaned the high gift of genius to 
pamper the vices of a corrupted court/* But American heroes were 
notable as simple, sincere men of high character. Washington, a cen 
tral figure in this literature, was portrayed in some of the books as an 
example both of the self-made man and of the practical man with little 
use for the intellectual life. "He was more solid than brilliant, and had 
more judgment than genius. He had great dread of public life, cared 
little for books, and possessed no library/ said a history book of the 
i88o s and 1890*3. Even Franklin was not depicted as one of the intel 
lectual leaders of the eighteenth century, or as a distinguished scientist 
at home in the capitals of the world and among its aristocracies, but 
rather as an exemplar of the self-made man and the author of catch 
penny maxims about thrift and industry. 

The highbrow sources anthologized in the readers consisted of ma 
terials that would confirm these sentiments. Anti-intellectual quotations 
from Wordsworth were prominent in the first half of the century, and 
from Emerson in the second half. A fifth reader of 1884 quoted Emer 
son s Goodbye: 

I laugh at the lore and the pride of man, 
At the sophists* schools, and the learned clan; 
For what are they all in their high conceit, 
When man in the bush with God may meet. 

There was a certain bias, too, against the idea of intellectual pleas 
ure; the standard injunctions against novel-reading were repeated; and 


the notion was on occasion set forth that reading for pleasure is an 
altogether bad business: ~A book which is torn and mutilated is abused, 
but one which is merely read for enjoyment is misused." Mrs. Elson 
concludes, from an intensive analysis of these readers, that "anti- 
intellectualism is not only not new in American civilization, but that 
it is thoroughly imbedded in the school books that have been read by 
generations of pupils since the beginning of the republic. * 

This downgrading of intellect was not compensated by any high 
regard for the arts. Music and the fine arts appeared primarily in con 
nection -with discussions of the self-made artist or of national monu 
ments or with exaltation of American art. What seemed to be impor 
tant to the compilers of school readers was not the aesthetic content of 
an artist s work but his career as evidence of the virtues of assiduous 
application. Benjamin West was portrayed as having been too poor as a 
boy to buy paint brushes and as having plucked hairs from his cat s 
tail to enable himself to paint: "Thus we see that, by industry, in 
genuity, and perseverance, a little American boy became the most 
distinguished painter of his day in England/ But if a career in art 
could be a means of disciplining character, it also had its dangers. 
An excerpt from the eighteenth-century English moralist, Hannah 
More, was exhumed to suggest "that in all polished countries an entire 
devotedness to the fine arts has been one grand source of the cor 
ruption of women . . . and while corruption brought on by an ex 
cessive cultivation of the arts has contributed its full share to the 
decline of states, it has always furnished an infallible symptom of their 
impending fall," The Italians were commonly held up as an example 
of a people -whose distinguished achievements in the arts went hand in 
hand with an unsound national character. As time went on, it should 
be said, the school readers showed an increasing disposition to point 
to the development of American art and letters as an answer to Eu 
ropean critics of American culture. Art, linked to national pride and 
conceived as an instrument, was at least acceptable. 

We cannot know, of course, how much impact the content of school 
readers had on the minds of children. But any child -who accepted 
the attitudes prevalent in these books would have come to think of 
scholarship and the fine arts as embellishments identified with the 
inferior society of Europe, would have thought of art primarily with 
regard to its services to nationality, and would have judged it almost 
entirely by its contributions to character. As Mrs. Elson puts it, he 
would grow up "to be honest y industrious, religious, and moral. He 

309 The School and the Teacher 

-would be a useful citizen untouched by the effeminate and perhaps 
even dangerous influence of the arts or scholarship/ The concept of 
culture presented in his readers had prepared him for "a Me devoted 
to the pursuit of material success and a perfected character, but a lif e 
in which intellectual and artistic achievements would seem important 
only when they could be made to subserve some useful purpose/* 

These gleanings from the school readers suggest a clearer definition 
of the American faith in education as it was manifested during the 
nineteenth century. Perhaps the most touching aspect of this faith was 
the benevolent determination that education should not be exclusive, 
that it should be universally accessible. With impressive success this 
determination was executed: the schools were made into powerful 
agencies for the diffusion of social and economic opportunities. Amer 
icans were somewhat less certain about what the internal, qualitative 
standards of education should be and, in so far as they could define 
these standards, had difficulty in implementing them on the large 
scale on which their educational efforts were conceived. The function 
of education in inculcating usable skills and in broadening social op 
portunities was always clear. The value of developing the mind for 
intellectual or imaginative achievement or even contemplative enjoy 
ment was considerably less clear and less subject to common agree 
ment. Many Americans were troubled by the suspicion that an edu 
cation of this land was suitable only to the leisured classes, to 
aristocracies, to the European past; that its usefulness was less evident 
than its possible dangers; that an undue concern with the development 
of mind was a form of arrogance or narcissism which one would expect 
to find mainly in the morally corrupt. 

* 4 " 

American reluctance to accept intellectual values in the educational 
process could hardly have been overcome by a strong, respected 
teaching profession, since such a profession did not exist. Popular 
attitudes did not call for the development of such a profession, but 
even if they had, the conditions of American life made it difficult to 
recruit and train a first-rate professional corps. 

The figure of the schoolteacher may well be taken as a central 
symbol in any modern society. The teacher is, or at least can be, the 
first more or less full-time, professional representative of the life of the 
mind who enters into the experience of most children; and the feeling 


the child entertains toward the teacher, his awareness of the com 
munity s regard for the teacher, are focal points in the formation of 
his early, rudimentary notions about learning. This is, of course, some 
what less important in the primary school, where the essential work is 
the inculcation of elementary skills, than it is in the secondary school, 
where the rapidly awakening mind of the child begins to be engaged 
with the world of ideas. At any level, however, from the primary grades 
to the university, the teacher is not merely an instructor but a potential 
personal model for his (or her) pupils and a living clue to the attitudes 
that prevail in the adult world. From teachers children derive much of 
their sense of the way in which the mind is cultivated; from observing 
how their teachers are esteemed and rewarded they quickly sense 
how society looks upon the teacher s role. 

In countries where the intellectual functions of education are highly 
valued, like France, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries, the 
teacher, especially the secondary-school teacher, is likely to be an im 
portant local figure representing a personal and vocational ideal 
worthy of emulation. There it seems worth becoming a teacher be 
cause what the teacher does is worth doing and is handsomely 
recognized. The intellectually alert and cultivated teacher may have a 
particular importance for intelligent children whose home environ 
ment is not highly cultivated; such children have no alternative source 
of mental stimulation- All too often, however, in the history of the 
United States, the schoolteacher has been in no position to serve as a 
model for an introduction to the intellectual life. Too often he has not 
only no claims to an intellectual life of his own, but not even an 
adequate workmanlike competence in the skills he is supposed to 
impart. Regardless of his own quality, his low pay and common lack 
of personal freedom have caused the teachers role to be associated 
with exploitation and intimidation. 

That American teachers are not well rewarded or esteemed is almost 
universally recognized in contemporary comment. A few years ago 
Marion Folsom, then Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, ob 
served that the "national disgrace" of our teachers salaries reflected 
"the lack of respect accorded to teaching by the public." 6 Reminders 
of this situation constantly appear in the press. One day the public 
learns that a city in Michigan pays its teachers $400 a year less than 
its garbage collectors; another that a group of teachers in Florida, 
finding that the governor pays his cook $3,600 a year, have written to 

e The New York Times, November 3, 1957* 

311 The School and the Teacher 

point out that the cook is paid more than many of the state s college- 
educated teachers. 7 Like other Americans, teachers live better in ab 
solute terms than their European counterparts, but their annual sala 
ries, relative to the per capita income of their country, have been 
lower than those of teachers in every country of the Western world, 
except Canada. The American teacher s average annual salary in 1949 
stood in a ratio of 1.9 to the per capita income; the comparable figure 
was 2.5 in England, 5.1 in France, 4.7 in the West German Republic, 
3.1 in Italy, 3.2 in Denmark, and 3.6 in Sweden. 8 

The status of schoolteaching as an occupation is lower in this coun 
try than elsewhere, and it is far lower than that of the professions 
in the United States. Characteristically, as Myron Lieberman remarks, 
teachers are recruited "from the top of the lower half of the popu 
lation." Upper and upper-middle class persons almost universally re 
ject teaching as a vocation. Teachers frequently resort, during the 
school year or their summer "vacations," to low-status jobs to supple 
ment their teaching incomes; they work as waitresses, bartenders, 
housekeepers, janitors, farm hands, checkroom attendants, milkmen, 
common laborers, and the like. They come from culturally constricted 
lower- or middle-class homes, where the Saturday Evening Post or 
the Readers Digest is likely to be the characteristic reading matter. 9 
For most teachers, their jobs, inadequate though they are, represent 
some improvement over the economic position of their parents, and 
they will, in turn, do still better by their children, who will be better 
educated than they are. 

There is reason to believe, despite the sensationalism of The Black 
board Jungle and the obviously chaotic conditions of many urban 
slum schools, that the personal rapport between teachers and pupils in 
American secondary schools is good; it is particularly good among 
middle- and upper-class children, who are responsive to the educa 
tional goals of the schools and who tend to be favored by the teachers 

7 Ibid., March 24, 1957. 

8 Myron Lieberman: Education as a Profession (New York, 1956), p* 383; 
chapter 12 of this work is informative on the economic position of American teach 
ers. The comparative disadvantage of American teachers registered in these figures 
does not take into account a variety of valuable non-salaried forms of compensation 
available elsewhere, like retirement allowances and free medical treatment. 

9 The best brief discussion of the occupational status of teachers is that of Lieber 
man: op. cit., chapter 14. There are studies indicating that teachers enjoy a higher 
social status than i have indicated, but they are based upon opinion polling, a 
technique which in my opinion yields very poor results on matters of status. On the 
position of teachers, see also the excellent and rather neglected book by Willard 
Waller: The Sociology of Teaching ( New York, 1932 ) . 


over lower-class children even when the latter show equal ability. But 
the important fact is that American adolescents have more sympathy 
than admiration for their teachers. They know that their teachers are 
ill-paid and they are quick to agree that teachers should be better paid. 
The more ambitious and able among them also conclude that school- 
teaching is not for them. 1 In this way, the mediocrity of the teaching 
profession tends to perpetuate itself. In so far as the teacher stands 
before his pupils as a surrogate of the intellectual life and its rewards, 
he unwittingly makes this life appear altogether unattractive. 

The unenviable situation of the teacher can be traced back to the 
earliest days of our history. The educational enthusiasm of the Amer 
ican people was never keen enough to dispose them to support their 
teachers very well. In part this seems to have reflected a common 
Anglo-American attitude toward the teaching function, which was 
sharply different from that prevailing on the European Continent. 2 
In any case, the market in qualified labor was always a problem 
here, and early American communities had intense difficulties in find 
ing and keeping suitable schoolmasters. In colonial times there "was a 
limited supply of educated men, and they were blessed with too many 
opportunities to be content to settle for what the average community 
was willing to pay a schoolmaster. Various solutions were tried. Some 
elementary education was conducted by women in "dame schools," 
usually private but sometimes partly or largely paid for out of public 
funds; though it was not until well on in the nineteenth century that 
American communities generally turned to women for their supply of 

1 On the attitude of teen-agers toward their teachers, see H. H. Remmers and 
D. BL Radler: The American Teenager (Indianapolis, 1957); on class factors in 
die relations between teachers and pupils, see August B. Hollingshead: Elmtoton s 
Youth (New York, 1949) ; and W, Lloyd Warner, Robert J. Havighurst, and Martin 
B. Loeb: Who Shall Be Educated? ( New York, 1944 ) . 

2 Presumably the labor market was somewhat different in England in the early 
nineteenth century, but the social and economic conditions of teachers in public 
education seem less enviable than that of Americans. See Asher Tropp: The 
School Teachers (London, 1957). Somewhat revealing in this connection was the 
remark of one of Her Majesty s Inspectors, H. S. Tremenheere, on a visit to the 
United States in the iSso s. He wrote: "Any one from England visiting those 
schools would be also greatly struck with the very high social position, considering 
the nature of their employment, of the teachers, male and female. . . /* Notes on 
Public Subjects Made during a Tour in the United States and Canada (London, 
1852.), pp. 57-8- I believe the phrase I have italicized here would have been 
intelligible to English and American readers and quite mystifying to most readers 
on the Continent. For another English observer, who found the status of 
American teachers high, though their pay was equally bad as in England, see 
Francis Adams: The Free School System of the United States (London, 1875), 
especially pp. 176-8, 181-2, 194-5, 197-8,5138. 

313 The School and the Teacher 

schoolteachers. In some towns the minister doubled as a schoolmaster; 
or the schoolmaster doubled as a local man of all work, with a variety of 
civic and church duties ranging from ringing the church bells to 
serving as the local scribe, the town crier, or the town clerk. Others 
accepted the fact that a permanent schoolmaster was all but an im 
possibility and employed briefly a series of ambitious young men who 
were on the way to other careers, perhaps in the ministry or the law. 
Thus, many communities were able temporarily to secure able teachers 
of good character, but the very transience of their role seemed to estab 
lish the point that teaching was no better than a way station in life for 
a man of real ability and character. 

Men permanently fixed in the role of schoolmaster seem often to 
have been of indifferent quality and extraordinarily ill-suited for the 
job. Perhaps it is because only the pathological aspects of a situation 
usually make historical news that Willard S. Elsbree, writing about 
the character of the colonial schoolmaster, in his history, The American 
Teacher., tells us mainly about drunkenness, slander, profanity, law 
suits, and seductions. 3 But it is also suggestive that colonial communi 
ties sometimes had to resort to indentured servants for teachers. A 
Delaware minister observed, around 1725, that "when a ship arrives in 
the river, it is a common expression with those who stand in need of an 
instructor for their children, let us go and buy a school master! 9 In 
1776 the Maryland Journal advertised that a ship had just arrived at 
Baltimore from Belfast and Cork, and enumerated among its products 
for sale "various Irish commodities, among which are school masters, 
beef, pork, and potatoes." It was about the same time that the Connect 
icut press printed an advertisement offering a reward for a runaway 
described as "a school-master, of a pale complexion, with short hair. 
He has the itch very bad, and sore legs." Disabled men were fre 
quently turned into schoolteachers for lack of anything better to do 
with them. The town of Albany in 1673 added a local baker to its 
existing staff of three teachers because, it said, "Tie was impotent in his 
hand." 4 Although such choices may have been motivated by a mis 
placed philanthropy, they also reflected a persistent difficulty in find 
ing qualified men. Massachusetts alone stood out as having enough 
educated men so that a significant proportion of college graduates 
were schoolmasters. 

3 The American Teacher ( New York, 1939 ) , chapter 2-. 

4 Howard K. Beale: A History of Freedom of Teaching in American Schools 
(New York, 1941), pp. 1112,; Elsbree: op. cit., pp. 2-67, 34. 


Although competent and dedicated schoolmasters could be found 
from time to time, the misfits seem to have been so conspicuous that 
they set an unflattering image of the teaching profession. "The truth 
is," an observer wrote in 1725, "the office and character of such a 
person is generally very mean and contemptible here, and it cannot 
be other ways *til the public takes the Education of Children into 
their mature consideration." 5 The tradition seems to have persisted 
well on into the nineteenth century, when we find this sad confession: 
"The man who was disabled to such an extent that he could not en 
gage in manual labor who was lame, too fat, too feeble, had the 
phthisic or had fits or was too lazy to work well, they usually made 
schoolmasters out of these, and thus got what \vork they could out of 
them." There was a train of stereotypes of this order: the one-eyed or 
one-legged teacher, the teacher who had been driven out of the minis 
try by his weakness for drink, the lame teacher, the misplaced fiddler, 
and "the teacher who got drunk on Saturday and whipped the entire 

school on Monday/" 6 


The concern of serious educators with the caliber of teachers was 
general and knew no bounds of geography. James Gordon Carter, 
describing the Massachusetts schools as they were in 1824, declared 
that 7 the men teachers could be divided into three classes: ( i ) Those 
who thought teaching easier and possibly more remunerative than 
common labor. (2) Those -who were acquiring a good education, and 
who took up teaching as a temporary employment, either to earn 
money for necessities or to give themselves time to choose a regular 
profession. (3) Those who, conscious of weakness, despaired of 
distinction or even the means of subsistence by other employments: 
"If a young man be moral enough to keep out of State prison, he will 
find no difficulty in getting approbation for a schoolmaster/* 

Some years later President Joseph Caldwell of the University of 
North Carolina waxed indignant about the recruitment of the school 
teachers of his state: s 

5 Beale: op. cit., p. 13. 

6 R. Carlyle Buley: op. cit,, Vol. II, pp. 3701. 

7 James G. Carter: The Schools of Massachusetts in 182,4, Old South Leaflets No. 
135, PP- 15-16, 19, 21. 

8 Beale: op. cit., p. 93; cf. the early treatise on teaching, Samuel Hall s Lectures 
on School-Keeping (Boston, 1829), especially pp. 26-8. On the condition of the 
teaching profession in the Southwest ("The great mass of our teachers are mere 
adventurers"), see Philip Lindsley in Richard Hofstadter and Wilson Smith, eds.: 
American Higher Education: A Documentary History (Chicago, 1961), Vol. I, 
PP- 332-3- 

315 The School and the Teacher 

Is a man constitutionally and habitually indolent, a burden 
upon all from whom he can extract support? Then there is one way 
of shaking him off, let us make him a schoolmaster. To teach school 
is, in the opinion of many, little else than sitting still and doing 
nothing. Has any man wasted all his property, or ended in debt by 
indiscretion and misconduct? The business of school-keeping 
stands -wide open for his reception, and here he sinks to the 
bottom, for want of capacity to support himself. Has any one 
ruined himself, and done all he could to corrupt others, by dis 
sipation, drinking, seduction, and a course of irregularities? Nay, 
has he returned from prison after an ignominious atonement for 
some violation of the laws? He is destitute of character and can 
not be trusted, but presently he opens a school and the children 
are seen flocking into it, for if he is willing to act in that capacity, 
we shall all admit that as he can read and -write, and cypher to the 
square root, he will make an excellent schoolmaster, 

And what, after all, was the dominant stereotype of the schoolmaster 
in American literature if not Washington Irving s Ichabod Crane? 

The cognomen of Crane was not inapplicable to his person. He 
was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms 
and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that 
might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely 
hung together. His head was small, and flat at the top, with huge 
ears, large, green, glassy eyes, and a long, snip nose, so that it 
looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck to tell 
-which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile o 
a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about 
him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of Famine 
descending upon the earth or some scarecrow eloped from a corn 

As Irving portrayed him, Ichabod Crane was not altogether a bad 
fellow. In the course of boarding around, he did what he could to make 
himself agreeable to the families of the farmers, undertook a wide 
variety o chores and dandled and petted the young children. Among 
the women of the community he cut a figure of some importance, being 
somewhat more cultivated than the bumpkins they ordinarily met. But 
this "odd mixture of small shrewdness and simple credulity** was no 
hero to the men, and when Brom Bones in his ghastly masquerade 


frightened Ichabod out o town and smashed a pumpkin on his credu 
lous head, he was passing the symbolic judgment of the American 
male community on the old-time schoolmaster. 

* 5 * 

Complaints such as those of Caldwell and Carter, men who hoped 
to work some educational reform, probably exaggerated the case; but 
if they did, they only reflected a stereotype of the teacher that had 
fixed itself in the mind of the country. A vicious circle had been drawn. 
American communities had found it hard to find, train, or pay for good 
teachers. They settled for what they could get, and what they got was a 
high proportion of misfits and incompetents. They tended to conclude 
that teaching was a trade which attracted rascals, and, having so con 
cluded, they were reluctant to pay the rascals more than they were 
worth. To be sure, there is evidence that the competent schoolteacher 
of good character was eagerly welcomed when he could be found, 
and soon earned a status in the community higher than that of his 
colleagues elsewhere; but it was a long time before any considerable 
effort could be made to improve the caliber of teachers generally. 

What helped American education to break out of the vicious circle 
was the development of the graded primary school and the emergence 
of the woman teacher. The graded school, a response to the educational 
problems of the largest cities, began to develop in the 1820*3 and had 
become prevalent by 1860. In the latter year most cities had such 
schools, which pupils entered at about six and could leave at fourteen. 
The graded school, modeled largely on the German system, made 
possible smaller classrooms holding more homogeneous groups of pu 
pils and did much to put American teaching on a respectable basis. It 
also increased the need for teachers and opened the trade to women. 
Until 1830, most teachers had been men, and women had dealt mainly 
with very small children and summer classes. The notion prevailed 
that women were inadequate to the disciplinary problems of the 
schoolroom, especially in large classes and more advanced age groups. 
The emergence of the graded school provided a partial answer to 
these objections. Opponents of women teachers were still to be heard 
in many communities, but they were often easily silenced when it was 
pointed out that women teachers could be paid one third or one half 
as much as men. Here was one answer to the great American quest to 
educate everybody but to do it cheaply. By 1860 women teachers 

317 The School and the Teacher 

outnumbered men in some states, and the Civil War accelerated the 
replacement of men. By 1870 it is estimated that women constituted 
almost sixty per cent of the teaching force, and their numbers were 
increasing rapidly. By 1900 over seventy per cent of teachers were 
women, and in another quarter of a century the figure reached a peak 
of over eighty-three per cent. 9 

Acceptance of the woman teacher solved the problem of character 
as well as that of cost, since it was possible to find a fair supply of 
admirable young girls to work at low pay and to keep them at work as 
teachers only so long as their personal conduct met the rigid and some 
times puritanical standards set by school boards. But it did not al 
together solve the problem of competence. The new teachers were 
characteristically very young and poorly prepared. For a long time 
there were practically no public facilities to give them specialized 
training, and private seminaries for the purpose were not numerous, 
European countries experimented with the training of teachers for 
more than a century before the United States gave much thought 
to it. Horace Mann was instrumental in establishing the first public 
normal school in Massachusetts in 1839; but at the beginning of the 
Civil War there were only a dozen such institutions. They proliferated 
rapidly after 1862; yet at the end of the century they were still unable 
to keep pace with the rapidly growing demand for teachers. In 1898 
only a small proportion of new teachers perhaps about one fifth 
was taken from public or private schools of this order. 

Moreover, the training these schools offered was not very exalted. 
Their admissions standards were haphazard, and even as late as 1900 
a high-school diploma was seldom considered a prerequisite of en 
trance. Two years of high-school work, or the equivalent, was usually 
the prelude to two or three years of normal school. The four-year 
normal school became prevalent only after 1920, by which time it was 
beginning to be superseded by the teachers* college. Even in 1930, 
a survey by the United States Office of Education showed that only 
eighteen per cent of the country s current graduates of teachers 
colleges and normal schools had had four-year courses. Two thirds of 
them were products of one-year or two-year curricula. 1 

In spite of the considerable effort made by American communities 

9 Elsbree: op. cit., pp. 194208, 5534. By 1956 the figure had fallen to seventy- 
three per cent. Women school teachers received about two thirds the salaries of 
men in rural areas. In the cities, where pay was higher for both, they tended at 
first to get only a little more than one third of the salaries of men. 

1 Elsbree: op. cit., pp. 31134. 


to meet the demand for competent teachers around the turn of the 
century and afterwards, they were engaged in a taxing race with the 
explosive growth of the school population; and the excess of demand 
over supply in the market for teachers militated against efforts to 
raise standards of preparation. The best estimates for 191920 indicate 
that half of America s schoolteachers were under twenty-five, half 
served in the schools for not more than four or five years, and half had 
had no more than four years of education beyond the eighth grade. 
A period of rapid improvement at least in the quantitative dimension 
of teacher education ensued in the next several years. | But in 1933, 
when the United States Office of Education published its National 
Survey of the Education of Teachers, it found that only ten per cent 
of the elementary teachers of the country, and only fifty-six per cent of 
the junior high-school teachers and eighty-five per cent of the senior 
high-school teachers, had B.A. degrees.^ Education beyond the B.A. 
degree was almost negligible except among senior high-school teach 
ers, of whom a little more than one sixth had taken their M.A/s. A 
comparison of teacher education in America and in selected countries 
of Western Europe showed the United States to be at some consider 
able disadvantage, significantly behind England and far behind 
France, Germany, and Sweden. "What inspires grave concern," wrote 
the authors of the survey, "is the fact that students in general and 
important groups of teachers in particular were not much more intelli 
gent than a cross-section of the population at large/ 2 

To what extent able students stayed out of teaching because of its 
poor rewards and to what extent because of the nonsense that figured 
so prominently in teacher education, it is difficult to say. That teachers 
did not have enough training in the subjects they intended to teach 
was clear enough; but even more striking was the fact that, however 
prepared they might be in the field of their major interest, their 
chances of teaching in that field were no better than fair. The survey s 
collation of existing studies showed that a high-school teacher with a 
good preparation in an academic subject had hardly better than a 
fifty per cent chance of being assigned to teach it. In part this may 
have been a consequence of administrative negligence, but mainly it 

2 E. S. Evenden: "Summary and Interpretation/* National Survey of the Educa 
tion of Teachers, Vol. VI (Washington, 1935), pp. 32, 49, 89. For later information 
on the caliber of persons entering education, see Henry Chauncey: < *The Use of 
Selective Service College Qualification Test in the Deferment of College Students," 
Science, Vol. CXVI (July 25, 1952), pp. 739. See also Lieberrnan: op. cit, pp. 

3*9 The School and the Teacher 

was attributable to the large number of uueconomicalry small high 
schools about whiel| James Bryant Conant Was still complaining in 

As one looks at the history of teacher training in the United States, 
one can hardly escape Elsbree s conclusion that "in our efforts to sup 
ply enough teachers for the public schools we have sacrificed quality 
for quantity.** 4 The prevailing assumption was that everyone should 
get a common-school education, and on the whole this was realized, 
outside the South. But the country could not or would not make the 
massive effort that would have been necessary to supply highly trained 
teachers for this attempt to educate everybody. The search for cheap 
teachers was perennial. Schoolteachers were considered to be public 
officers, and it was part of the American egalitarian philosophy that 
the salaries of public officers should not be too high. In colonial times 
salaries of schoolmasters, which varied widely, seem on the whole to 
have been roughly on a par with or below the wages of skilled laborers 
and distinctly below those of professional men. In 1843 Horace Mann, 
after making a survey of wages of various occupational groups in a 
Massachusetts community, reported that skilled workers were getting 
from fifty to a hundred per cent more than was being paid to any of 
the district schoolteachers of the same town. He found women teachers 
getting less than women factory workers. A New Jersey school ad 
ministrator in 1855 believed that although teachers were generally 
"miserably qualified for their duties," they were "even better prepared 
than they can afford to be." It was absurd, he pointed out, to expect 
men of ability and promise to work for a teacher s pay, and chiefly for 
this reason "the very name of teacher has been, and is yet to some 
extent, a term of reproach." Many a farmer would pay a better price 
for shoeing his horse than he would "to obtain a suitable individual to 
mould and form the character of his child." 5 

Certainly what was lacking in salary was not made up in dignity or 

3 On the strength of his observations, Conant concluded that "unless a graduat 
ing class contains at least one hundred students, classes in advanced subjects and 
separate sections within all classes become impossible except with extravagantly 
high costs." His survey showed that 73.9 per cent of the country s high schools had 
twelfth-grade enrollments of less than a hundred, and that 31.8 per cent of the 
twelfth-grade pupils were in such schools. The American High School Today (New 
York, 1959), pp. 37-~8, 7785, 1323. Of course, an important reason for the failure 
to make good use of the academic specialities of teachers was the practice of 
specifying requirements in education courses for teachers* certificates but paying 
insufficient attention to academic requirements. 

* Op. cit., p. 334. 

6 Ibid., p. 5173; for Mann, see pp. 279-80. 


status. Moreover, the growing numerical preponderance o the woman 
teacher, which did so much to cure the teaching profession of the taint 
of bad character, created a new and serious problem. Elsewhere in 
the world the ideal prevails and the actual recruitment of teachers 
by and large conforms to it that men should play a vital role in 
education generally, and a preponderant role in secondary education. 
The United States is the only country in the Westernized world that 
has put its elementary education almost exclusively in the hands of 
women and its secondary education largely so. In 1953 this country 
stood almost alone among the nations of the world in the f eminization 
of its teaching: women constituted ninety-three per cent of its pri 
mary teachers and sixty per cent of its secondary teachers. Only one 
country in Western Europe (Italy, with fifty- two per cent) employed 
women for more than half of its secondary-school personnel. 6 
I The point is not, of course, that women are inferior to men as 
teachers (in fact, at some levels, and particularly in the lower grades of 
the elementary school, there is reason to think that women teachers 
are preferable). But in America, where teaching has been identified as 
a feminine profession, it does not offer men the stature of a fully 
legitimate male role. The American masculine conviction that educa 
tion and culture are feminine concerns is thus confirmed, and no doubt 
partly shaped, by the experiences of boys in school. There are often 
not enough male models or idols among their teachers whose per 
formance will convey the sense that the world of mind is legitimately 
male, who can give them masculine examples of intellectual inquiry 
or cultural life, and who can be regarded as sufficiently successful and 
important in the world to make it conceivable for vigorous boys to 
eater teaching themselves for a Iivelihood.\The boys grow up thinking 
of men teachers as somewhat effeminate and treat them with a curious 
mixture of genteel deference (of the sort due to women) and hearty 
male condescension. 7 In a certain constricted sense, the male teacher 
may be respected, but he is not "one of the boys/* 

6 Lieberman: op. cit., p. 244, gives figures for twenty-five countries. Four Western 
countries, the United Kingdom, France, West Germany, and Canada, ranged from 
thirty-four per cent female secondary teachers to forty-five per cent the average 
being forty-one per cent. In the U.S.S.R., sixty per cent of primary and forty-five 
per cent of secondary school teachers are women. See ibid., pp. .24155, for a dis 
cussion of this problem* 

7 See, for example, the incident recounted by Waller i op. cit., pp. 4950. "It has 
been said," Waller remarks, "that no woman and no Negro is ever folly admitted 
to the white man s world. Perhaps we should add men teachers to the list of the ex 
cluded." The problem is somewhat complicated by the aura of sexlessness that 
hangs over the public image of the teaching profession, and by the long-prevailing 

The School and the Teacher 

But this question of the maleness of the teacher s role is only a small 
part of a large problem. In the nineteenth century men had all too 
often entered schoolteaching either transiently as a step on the way 
to becoming lawyers, ministers, politicians, or college professors or as 
a final confession of failure in more worthwhile occupations. Even 
today, surveys show, the ablest men tend to enter teaching in the 
expectation that they will become educational administrators or leave 
the field entirely. In recent decades a new area has opened up which 
may drain able men, and women as well, out of the public secondary- 
school: the emergence of large numbers of heavily attended junior or 
community colleges has made it possible for enterprising teachers with 
an extra increment of ability and training to step up from the high 
school, or sidestep it altogether, in favor of an institution which offers 
an easier way of life as well as better pay and more prestige. There, 
however, some of the instruction they offer will be of a kind which 
could as well be offered in an efficient, first-rate secondary school. 
Giving the thirteenth and fourteenth years of public education a 
separate institutional setting may have a variety of advantages, but it 
does not in itself add to the total store of the country s teaching talents. 
In its pursuit of an adequate supply of well-trained teachers, the na 
tion is caught in a kind of academic treadmill. The more adequate the 
rewards become in the upper echelons of education in the colleges 

prejudice against the married woman teacher. Nineteenth-century America was 
dominated by a curious conviction, probably somewhat dissipated in the more 
recent past, that teachers ought to be oddities in their personal lives a conviction 
that was easy to enforce in small towns. No doubt the conviction had been 
quickened by unhappy experiences with the schoolmaster-scamp, but it seems also 
to have been shaped by the desire to have children schooled by sexual ciphers. 
This desire lingered to torment many a perfectly innocent girl even in our own 
time, and where imposed put hopeless restrictions on the lives o well-intentioned 
schoolmasters. See the touching letter o protest written in 1852, by a schoolmaster 
against efforts to prevent him from walking to and from school with his female as 
sistant. Elsbree: op. cit., pp. 3002. Howard Beale s Are American Teachers Free? 
has ample information on the personal restrictions imposed on teachers. I particularly 
like a pledge forced on all teachers in a Southern community in 1927, in which one 
of a number of promises was: "I promise not to fall in love, to become engaged or 
secretly married." "Waller: op. cit., p. 43. Even today, Martin Mayer observes: "It is 
an interesting fact that most European schools are for boys or girls, but the teachers 
mingle freely, regardless of sex; most American schools are co-educational, but 
the teachers are rigidly segregated by sex during their time off." The Schools 
(New York, 1961), p. 4. Finally, the prevailing old-time prejudice against the 
married woman teacher, commonly carried to the point of compulsory job severance 
for teachers who marry, used to confine the female side of the profession in many 
places to spinsters and very young girls. For the reasons usually invoked for barring 
married women, see D. W. Peters: The Status of the Married Woman Teacher 
(New York, 1934). 


and junior colleges and the higher the proportion o the young popu 
lation that attends such institutions, the greater their capacity becomes 
to pull talent out of the lower levels of the system. It remains difficult 
to find enough trained talent to educate large masses in a society that 
does not make teaching attractive. 

E 3^3 I 

The Road 
to Life Adjustment 


appearance within professional education of an influential 
anti-intellectualist movement is one of the striking features of Amer 
ican thought. To understand this movement, which has its most signifi 
cant consequences in the education of adolescents, one must look at 
the main changes in public education since 1870. It was in the iS/o s 
that this country began to develop free public secondary education on 
a large scale, and only in the twentieth century that the public high 
school became a mass institution. 

Here certain peculiarities of American education are of the first 
importance above all, its democratic assumptions and the universality 
of its aims. Outside the United States it is not assumed that all children 
should be schooled for so many years or so uniformly. The educational 
systems of most European countries were frankly tailored to their class 
systems, although they have become less so in our time. In Europe 
children are generally schooled together only until the age of ten or 
eleven; after that they go separate ways in specialized schools, or at 
least in specialized curricula. After fourteen, about eighty per cent 
are finished with their formal education and the rest enter academic 
pre-university schools. In the United States children must be in school 
until the age of sixteen or more, and a larger portion of them are sent 
to college than in European countries are sent to academic secondary 
schools. Americans also prefer to keep their secondary-school children 


in school under a single roof, usually the comprehensive community 
high school, ^nd on a single educational track ( though not in a uniform 
curriculum). They are not, ideally, meant to be separated, either 
socially or academically, according to their social class; though the 
relentless social realities of poverty and ethnic prejudice intervene to 
preserve most of the class selectivity that our democratic educational 
philosophy repudiatesjln any case, the decision as to a child s ultimate 
vocational destiny does not have to be made so early in this country as 
elsewhere, if only because it is not institutionalized by the demands of 
early educational classification. In the United States specialized prep 
aration even for the professions is postponed to graduate education 
or at best to the last two years of college. American education serves 
larger numbers for a longer period of time. It is more universal, more 
democratic, more leisurely in pace, less rigorous. It is also more -waste 
ful; class-oriented systems are prodigal of the talents of the under 
privileged; American education tends to be prodigal of talent gener 

The difference in structure was not always so great, especially in 
secondary schooling. Before the mass public high school emerged, 
American practice in secondary education was less in keeping with 
our democratic theory than with the selective European idea. During 
the nineteenth century, public education for most Americans ended 
with the last years of the graded primary school, if not earlier jFree 
education beyond the primary-school years was established only in the 
three decades after iS/oi Before 1870, the class system, here as well as 
in Europe, was a primary determinant of the schooling children v^ould 
get after the age of about thirteen or fourteen. Well-to-do parents, 
who could afford tuition and -who had intellectual or professional 
aspirations for their children, could send them to private academies, 
which were often boarding schools. Since the days of Franklin these 
academies had offered a mixture of the traditional and the "practical": 
there was a liberal, classical course, founded upon Latin, Greek, and 
mathematics, commonly supplemented by science and history; but in 
many schools the students had an option between the "Latin course" 
and the "English course," the latter being a more "practical" and 
modern curriculum stressing subjects supposedly useful in business. 
Academies varied widely in quality, duplicating, in their lowest ranges, 
some of the work of the common schools and, at their peak, some of the 
work of the colleges. The best of them were so good that graduates 

The Road to Life Adjustment 

who went on to college were likely to be bored by repetition in the 
first and even the second college year. 1 

The disparity between the country s moral commitment to educa 
tional democracy and its heavy reliance upon private schools for 
secondary education did not escape the attention of educational critics. 
On one side there were the generally available public primary schools; 
on the other, the rapidly proliferating colleges and universities not 
free, of course, but cheap and undiscriminating. In between there was 
an extensive gap, filled by a few pioneering public high schools, but 
mainly by the private academies, of which it is estimated there were 
in 1850 about six thousand. As early as the 1830*5 the academies were 
denounced as exclusive, aristocratic, and un-American. For a nation 
already committed to the free common-school system, the extension 
of this system into the years of secondary education seemed a logical 
and necessary step. Industry was growing; vocational life was becom 
ing more complex. Skills were more in demand, and it seemed that 
both utility and equality would be well served by free public educa 
tion in the secondary years. 

Advocates of the public high school had strong moral and vocational 
arguments, and the legal basis for their proposals already existed in 
the common-school system. Shortsightedness and mean-spirited tax- 
consciousness stood in their way, but not for long. The number of pub 
lic high schools began to rise with great and increasing rapidity after 
1860. From 1890 (when usable enrollment figures begin) to 1940, 
the total enrollment of the high schools nearly doubled every decade. 
By 1910, thirty-five per cent of the seventeen-year-olds were in school; 
today the figure has reached over seventy per cent. At this tempo 
the high school has become an institution which nearly all American 
youth enter, and from which about two thirds graduate. 

Whatever may be said about the qualitative performance of the 
American high school, which varies widely from place to place, no one 
is likely to deny that the free secondary education of youth was a 

1 It was not necessary to go to an academy to prepare for college; one could also 
enroll in the "preparatory departments" many colleges maintained to give prospec 
tive applicants enough grounding in classics, mathematics, and English to enter 
upon the college course proper. The existence of a large number of such prepara 
tory departments as late as 1889, 335 of 400 colleges still had them is testimony 
of the inadequacy of the secondary schools to prepare for college requirements 
those who wanted to go to college. Edgar B, Wesley: N.E.A.: The First Hundred 
Years (New York, 1957), p. 95. On the academies, see E. E. Brown: The Making 
of Our Middle Schools ( New York, 1903 ) . 


signal accomplishment in the history of education, a remarkable token 
of our desire to make schooling an instrument of mass opportunity and 
social mobility. Since I shall have much to say about the high school s 
cunicular problems, it seems important here to stress the positive 
value of this achievement, and to note that, in its democratic features, 
if not in its educational standards, the American high school has been 
to some degree emulated by European school systems in the last gen 

The development of the high school into a mass institution dras 
tically altered its character. At the turn of the century the relatively 
small clientele of the high school was still highly selective. Its pupils 
were there, in the main, because they wanted to be, because they and 
their parents had seized upon the unusual opportunity the high school 
offered. It is often said, but mistakenly, that the high school, sixty or 
seventy years ago, was primarily attended by those preparing for 
college. This was less true than it has come to be in the past fifteen 
years. Today approximately half the high-school graduates enter col 
lege an astonishing proportion. I do not know what proportion of the 
high-school graduates actually entered college at the turn of the cen 
tury, but there is information as to how many of them were so pre 
pared. In 1891, twenty-nine per cent of the graduates were. By 1910 
the portion of those prepared for college and other advanced institu 
tions was forty-nine per cent. The figure has fluctuated since. 2 

The great change which has affected the high school is that, whereas 
once it was altogether voluntary, and for this reason quite selective, it 
is now, at least for those sixteen and under, compulsory and unselec- 
tive. During the very years when the high school began its most 
phenomenal growth, the Progressives and trade unionists were assailing 
the old industrial evil of child labor. One of the most effective devices 
to counteract this practice was raising the terminal age for compulsory 
schooling. In 1890, twenty-seven states required compulsory attend 
ance; by 1918 all states had such laws. Legislators also became more 
exigent in fixing the legal age for leaving school. In 1900 it was set at a 
mean age of fourteen years and five months in those states which then 
had such laws. By the igso s it was close to the figure it has reached 
today a mean age of sixteen years and three months. The welfare 

2 ee John F. Latimer: What s Happened to Our High Schools? (Washington, 
195S), pp. 75-8- For a penetrating brief account of the place o secondary educa 
tion in American society since 1870, see Martin Trow: "The Second Transforma 
tion of American Secondary Education," International Journal of Comparative 
Sociology, Vol. II (September, 1961), pp. 144-66. 

327 ^7i# Road to Life Adjustment 

state and the powerful trade union, moreover, saw to it that these laws 
were increasingly enforced. The young had to be protected from 
exploitation; and their elders had to be protected by keeping the 
young out of the labor market. 

Now, in an increasing measure, secondary-school pupils were not 
merely unselected but also unwilling; they were in high school not 
because they wanted further study but because the law forced them 
to go. The burden of obligation was shifted accordingly: whereas once 
the free high school offered a priceless opportunity to those who chose 
to take it, the high school now held a large captive audience that its 
administrators felt obliged to satisfy. As an educational committee of 
the American Youth Commission -wrote in 1940: "Even where a pupil 
is of low ability it is to be remembered that his attendance at secondary 
school is due to causes which are not of his making, and proper pro 
vision for him is a right which he is justified in claiming from society ." 3 

As the years went by, the schools filled with a growing proportion 
of doubtful, reluctant, or actually hostile pupils. It is a plausible con 
jecture that the average level of ability, as well as interest, declined. 
It became clear that the old academic curriculum could no longer be 
administered to a high-school population of millions in the same pro 
portion as it had been to the 359,000 pupils of 1890. So long as public 
education had meant, largely, schooling in the primary grades, the 
American conviction that everyone can and should be educated was 
relatively easy to put into practice. But as soon as public education 
included secondary education, it began to be more doubtful that 
everyone could be educated, and quite certain that not everyone 
could be educated in the same way. Beyond a doubt, change was in 

The situation of school administrators can hardly fail to command 
our sympathies. Even in the 1920*5, to a very large degree, they had 
been entrusted by the fiat of society with the management of quasi- 
custodial institutions. For custodial institutions the schools were, to 
the extent that they had to hold pupils uninterested in study but 
bound to the school by the laws. Moreover, the schools were under 
pressure not merely to fulfill the laws, but to become attractive enough 
to hold the voluntary allegiance of as large a proportion of the young 
for as long as they could. 4 Manfully settling down to their assignment, 

3 What the High Schools Ought to Teach (Washington, 1940), pp. II-IA. 

4 This was, of course, accentuated by the effects of the great depression and the 
growing power of the trade unions. But even in 1918 the N.E.A. was advocating 


educators began to search for more and more courses which, however 
dubious their merits by traditional educational standards, might inter 
est and attract the young. In time they became far less concerned with 
the type of mind the high school should produce or with the academic 
side of the curriculum. (Boys and girls who wanted to go to college 
would hang on in any case; it was the others they had to please.) 
Discussions of secondary education became more frequently inter 
larded with references to a new, decisive criterion of performance 
"the holding power of the school." 

The need to accept large numbers with varying goals and capacities 
and to exercise for many pupils a custodial function made it necessary 
for the schools to introduce variety into their curricula. The curriculum 
of the secondary school could hardly have been fixed at what it 
was in 1890 or 1910. But the issue posed for those who would guide 
public education was whether the academic content and intellectual 
standards of the school should be made as high as possible for each 
child, according to his will and his capacities, or whether there was 
good ground for abandoning any such end. To have striven seriously 
to keep up the intellectual content of the curriculum would have 
required a public and an educational profession committed to intel 
lectual values; it would have demanded much administrative in- 
genuity; and in many communities it would have called for much more 
generous financial support than the schools actually had. 
| But all this is rather in the nature of an imaginative exercise. The 
problem of numbers had hardly made its appearance before a move 
ment began in professional education to exalt numbers over quality 
and the alleged demands of utility over intellectual development. Far 
from conceiving the mediocre., reluctant, or incapable student as an 
obstacle or a special problem in a school system devoted to educating 
the interested, the capable., and the gifted, American educators 
entered upon a crusade to exalt the academically uninterested or un- 
gifted child into a kind of culture-hero. They were not content to say 
that the realities of American social lif e had made it necessary to com 
promise with the ideal of education as the development of formal 
learning and intellectual capacity. Instead, they militantly proclaimed 
that such education was archaic and futile and that the noblest end of a 
truly democratic system of education was to meet the child s immediate 
interests by offering him a series of immediate utilities. The history of 

that normal children be educated to the age of eighteen. Cardinal Principles of 
Secondary Education (Washington, 1918), p. 30. 

The Road to JLife Adjustment 

this crusade, which culminated in the ill-fated life-adjustment move 
ment of the 1940*8 and 1950*5, demands our attention; for it illustrates 
in action certain widespread attitudes toward childhood and schooling, 
character and ambition, and the place of intellect in life./ 

The rise of the new interpretation of secondary education may be 
traced through a few examples of quasi-official statements by com 
mittees of the National Education Association and the United States 
Office of Education. These statements were, of course, not obligatory 
upon local school boards or superintendents. They represent the 
drift of educational thought without purporting to reflect exactly the 
changes actually being made in curricular policy. 

Toward the close of the nineteenth century, two contrasting views 
of the purposes of the public high schools were already competing for 
dominance. 5 The original view, which remained in the ascendant 
until 1910 and continued to have much influence for at least another 
decade, might be dubbed old-fashioned or intellectually serious, de 
pending upon one s sympathy for it. The high school, it was believed 
by those who held this view, should above all discipline and develop 
the minds of its pupils through the study of academic subject matter. 
Its well-informed advocates were quite aware that a majority of pupils 
were not being educated beyond high school; but they argued that 
the same education which was good preparation for college was good 
preparation for life. Therefore, the goal of secondary education, even 
when college was not the child s end-in-view, should be "mind cul 
ture," as it was called by William T. Harris, one of the leading ad 
vocates of the academic curriculum. Spokesmen of this school were 
intensely concerned that the pupil, whatever the precise content of 
his curriculum, should pursue every subject that he studied long 
enough to gain some serious mastery of its content. ( In the continuing 
debate over education the ideal of "mastery" of subject matter domi 
nates the thinking of the intellectualists, whereas the ideal of meeting 
the "needs * of children becomes the central conception of their op 

The most memorable document expressing academic views on sec 
ondary education was the famous report of the National Education 

5 The general outlines of this controversy are sketched in Wesley: N.E.A.: The 
First Hundred Years, pp. 66-77. 


Association s Committee of Ten in 1893. This committee was created 
to consider the chaos in the relations between colleges and secondary 
schools and to make recommendations about the high-school curricu 
lum. Its personnel, which reflected the dominance of college educa 
tors, compares interestingly with that of later committees set up for 
similar purposes* The chairman was President Charles William Eliot 
of Harvard, and the members were William T. Harris, the Commis 
sioner of Education, four other college or university presidents, the 
headmasters of two outstanding private secondary schools, a college 
professor, and only one public high-school principal. A series of sub 
sidiary conferences set up by the committee to consider the place of the 
major academic disciplines in high-school programs also showed col 
lege authorities in full control. Although many principals and head 
masters took part, there were also university professors whose names 
are recognizable in American intellectual history Benjamin I. 
Wheeler, George Toyman Kittredge, Florian Cajori, Simon Newcomb, 
Ira Remsen, Charles K. Adams, Edward G. Bourne, Albert B. Hart, 
James Harvey Robinson, and Woodrow Wilson. 

The Committee of Ten recommended to the secondary schools a 
set of four alternative courses a classical course, a Latin-scientific 
course, a modern languages course, and an English course. These cur 
ricula varied chiefly in accordance with their relative emphasis on the 
classics, modern languages, and English. But all demanded, as a mini 
mum, four years of English, four years of a foreign language, three 
years of history, three years of mathematics, and three years of science. 
In this respect, the contemporary reader will notice the close similarity 
between this program and that recently recommended by James 
Bryant Conant, in his survey of the high schools, as a minimum for 
"academically talented boys and girls." 6 

The curricula designed by the Committee of Ten show that they 
thought of the secondary school as an agency for academic training, 
But they did not make the mistake of thinking that these schools were 
simply college-preparatory institutions. Quite the contrary, the com 
mittee almost exaggerated the opposite point of view when it said that 

6 Conant recommended four years of mathematics, four years of a foreign lan 
guage, three years of science, four years of English, and three years of history and 
social studies. In addition, he thought many academically talented pupils might 
wish to take a second foreign language or an additional course in social studies. 
The American High School Today (New York, 1959), p. 57. Conant felt that 
minimum requirements for graduation for all students should include at least one 
year of science, four years of English, and three or four years of social studies. 

331 The Road to Life Adjustment 

"only an insignificant percentage 7 * of high-school graduates went on to 
colleges or scientific schools. The main function of high schools, said 
the committee, was "to prepare for the duties of life/* not for college, 
but if the main subjects were all "taught consecutively and thoroughly, 
and ... all carried on in the same spirit ... all used for training the 
powers of observation, memory, expression, and reasoning,* the pupil 
would receive an intellectual training that was good for college prep 
aration or for life: "Every subject which is taught at all in a secondary 
school should be taught in the same way and to the same extent to 
every pupil so long as he pursues it, no matter what the probable 
destination of the pupil may be or at what point his education is to 
cease.** 7 

The committee recognized that it would be desirable to find a larger 
place for music and art in the high schools, but it apparently found 
these of secondary importance and proposed to leave decisions about 
them to local initiative. Its members proposed, among other things, 
that language instruction should be begun in the last four years of the 
elementary schools, a suggestion that was lamentably ignored. They 
realized that an improvement in the caliber of secondary-school 
teachers was necessary to execute their recommendations effectively; 
they urged that the low- standards of the normal schools be raised 
and suggested that universities might interest themselves more deeply 
in the adequate training of teachers. 

In fact, the high schools had not developed entirely in accordance 
with the committee s conservative ideal. Even in the iSSo s there had 
been a considerable efflorescence of programs of practical and voca 
tional training manual training, shop work, and other such studies. 
Increasingly, those primarily concerned with the management and 
curricula of high schools became restive about the continuing domi 
nance of the academic ideal, which they considered arose from the 
high schools* "slavery** and "subjugation** to the colleges. The high 
schools, they insisted, were meant to educate citizens in their public 

T For relevant passages, see Report of the Camxmittee on Secondary School 
Studies Appointed at the Meeting of the National Education Association, July Q, 
1892, (Washington, 1893), pp. 811, 16-17, 34 47> 51 5- The committee believed 
that what pupils learned in high school should permit them to go to college if they 
should later make that decision. Colleges and scientific schools should be able to 
admit any graduate of a good secondary course, regardless of his program. At the 
present time, the committee found, this was impossible because the pupil might 
have gone through a high-school course "of a very feeble and scrappy nature 
studying a little of many subjects and not much of any one, getting, perhaps, a little 
information in a variety of fields, but nothing which can be called a thorough 


responsibilities and to train workers for industry, not to supply the 
colleges with freshmen. The high schools should be looked upon as 
"people s colleges" and not as the colleges preparatory schools. Demo 
cratic principles, they thought, demanded much greater consideration 
for the needs of the children who did not go to college. Regard for these 
needs and a due respect for the principles of child development de 
manded that the ideal of "mastery" be dropped, and that youth should 
be free to test and sample and select among subjects, deriving from 
some what they could retain and use, and passing on to others. To 
hold children rigorously to the pursuit of particular subjects would 
only increase the danger of their dropping out of school. 

A number of historical forces were working in favor of the new- 
educators. Business, when it was favorably disposed to education, 
tended to applaud and encourage what they were doing. The sheer 
weight of growing student numbers increased the appeal of their 
arguments. Their invocation of democratic principles, which were 
undergoing a resurgence after 1890, struck a responsive chord in the 
public. The colleges themselves were so numerous, so competitive, so 
heterogeneous in quality that in their hunger for more students they 
were far from vigilant in upholding the admissions standards of the 
past. They were, moreover, still uncertain about the value of their 
own inherited classical curriculum, and had been experimenting since 
about 1870 with the elective system and a broader program of studies. 
College and university educators were no longer vitally interested in 
the problems of secondary education, and reformers in that field were 
left with little authoritative criticism or opposition. The staffs of high 
schools were increasingly supplied by the new state teachers colleges; 
and high-school textbooks, once written by college authorities in their 
fields, were now written by public-school superintendents, high-school 
principals and supervisors, or by students of educational methods. 

The slight concession made by the Committee of Ten to new schools of 
thought was hardly enough to allay discontent. It had not been able to 
foresee the extraordinary growth of the high-school population which 
would soon occur or the increasing heterogeneity of the student body. 
It quickly became evident that the curricular views of the Committee 
of Ten were losing ground. By 1908, when the N.E.A. was fast growing 

The Road to Life Adjustment 

in size and influence, it adopted a resolution repudiating the notion 
that public high schools should be chiefly ^fitting schools" for colleges 
(which, to be sure, had not been the contention of the Committee of 
Ten), urging that the high schools "be adapted to the general needs, 
both intellectual and industrial, of their students," and suggesting that 
colleges and universities too should adapt their courses to such needs. 8 
The balance was tipping: the high schools were no longer to be ex 
pected to suit the colleges; instead, the colleges ought to try to resem 
ble or accommodate the high schools. 

In 1911, a new committee of the N.E.A., the Committee of Nine on 
the Articulation of High School and College, submitted another report, 
which shows that a revolution in educational thought was well on its 
way. The change in personnel was itself revealing. Gone were the emi 
nent college presidents and distinguished professors of the 1893 report; 
gone, too, were the headmasters of elite secondary schools. The chair 
man of the Committee of Nine was a teacher at the Manual Training 
High School of Brooklyn, and no authority on any basic academic 
subject matter was on his committee, which consisted of school super 
intendents, commissioners, and principals, together with one professor 
of education and one dean of college faculties. Whereas the Committee 
of Ten had been a group of university men attempting to design cur 
ricula for the secondary schools, the new Committee of Nine was a 
group of men from public secondary schools, putting pressure through 
the N.E.A. on the colleges: "The requirement of four years of work in 
any particular subject, as a condition of admission to a higher institu 
tion, unless that subject be one that may properly be required of all 
high-school students, is illogical and should, in the judgment of this 
committee, be immediately discontinued." 

The task of the high school, the Committee of Nine argued, "was to 
lay the foundations of good citizenship and to help in the wise choice of 
a vocation," but it should also develop unique and special individual 
gifts, which was "quite as important as the development of the common 
elements of culture." The schools were urged to exploit the dominant 
interests "that each boy and girl has at the time." The committee 
questioned the notion that liberal education should precede the voca 
tional: "An organic conception of education demands the early intro 
duction of training for individual usefulness, thereby blending the 
liberal and the vocational. . . ." It urged much greater attention to the 
8 N.E.A. Proceedings, 1908, p. 39- 


role of mechanic arts, agriculture, and "household science** as rational 
elements in the education of all boys and girls. Because of the tradi 
tional conception of college preparation, the public high schools were 9 

responsible for leading tens of thousands of boys and girls away 
from the pursuits for which they are adapted and in which they 
are needed, to other pursuits for which they are not adapted and 
in which they are not needed. By means of exclusively bookish 
curricula false ideals of culture are developed. A chasm is created 
between the producers of material wealth and the distributors 
and consumers thereof. 

By 1918 the "liberation" of secondary education from college ideals 
and university control seems to have been consummated., at least on the 
level of theory, even if not yet in the nation s high-school curricula. In 
that year the N.E.A/s Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary 
Education formulated the goals of American schools in a document 
about which Professor Edgar B. Wesley has remarked that "probably 
no publication in the history of education ever surpassed this little five 
cent thirty-two page booklet in importance." a This statement, Cardinal 
Principles of Secondary Education, was given a kind of official en 
dorsement by the United States Bureau of Education, which printed 
and distributed an edition of 130,000 copies. It became the occasion of 
a nation-wide discussion of educational policy, and some teacher- 
training institutions regarded it so highly that they required their pu 
pils to memorize essential portions (thus violating a central canon of 
the new educational doctrines ) . 

The new commission pointed out that more than two thirds of those 
who entered the four-year high school did not graduate and that, among 
those -who did, a very large proportion did not go to college. The needs 
of these pupils must not be neglected. The old concept of general 
intellectual discipline as an aim of education must be re-examined. 
Individual differences in capacities and attitudes needed more atten 
tion. New laws of learning must be brought to bear to test subject 
matter and teaching methods; these could no longer be judged "pri 
marily in terms of the demands of any subject as a logically organized 

9 "Report of the Committee of Nine on the Articulation of High School and 
College," N.E.A. Proceedings, 1911, pp. 559-61. 
1 Wesley: op. cit., p. 75. 

335 The Road to Life Adjustment 

In short, the inner structure of various disciplines was to be 
demoted as an educational criterion and supplanted by greater defer 
ence to the laws of learning, then presumably being discovered. 

Moreover, the child was now conceived not as a mind to be de 
veloped but as a citizen to be trained by the schools. The new educators 
believed that one should not be content to expect good citizenship as a 
result of having more informed and intellectually competent citizens 
but that one must directly teach citizenship and democracy and civic 
virtues. The commission drew up a set of educational objectives in 
which neither the development of intellectual capacity nor the mastery 
of secondary academic subject matter was even mentioned. It was 
the business of the schools, the commission said, to serve democracy by 
developing in each pupil the powers that would enable him to act as a 
citizen. "It follows, therefore, that worthy home-membership, voca 
tion, and citizenship demand attention as three of the leading objec 
tives." The commission went on: "This Commission, therefore, regards 
the following as the main objectives of education: i. Health. 2,. Com 
mand of fundamental processes. [It became clear in context that this 
meant elementary skills in the three ITs, in which the commission, no 
doubt quite rightly, felt that continued instruction was now needed at 
the secondary level,] 3. Worthy home-membership. 4. Vocation. 
5. Citizenship. 6. Worthy use of leisure. 7. Ethical character .*" 

With justice, the commission argued that the traditional high school 
had done too little to encourage interests in music, art, and the drama 
but instead of presenting these as a desirable supplement to an intel 
lectually ordered curriculum, it offered them as an alternative. The 
high school, it said, "has so exclusively sought intellectual discipline 
that it has seldom treated literature, art, and music so as to evoke right 
emotional response and produce positive enjoyment.** Moreover, the 
high school placed too much emphasis on intensive pursuit of most 
subjects. Studies should be reorganized so that a single year of work in 
a subject would be "of definite value to those who go no further." This 
would make the courses "better adapted to the needs both of those who 
continue and of those who drop out of school." 

The commission further argued that the colleges and universities 
should follow the example of the secondary schools in considering 
themselves obliged to become mass institutions and to arrange their 

2 Quotations in this and the following paragraph are from Cardinal Principles of 
Secondary Education, passim. 


offerings accordingly. "The conception that higher education should be 
limited to the few is destined to disappear in the interests of democ 
racy," it said prophetically. This meant, among other things, that high- 
school graduates should be able to go on to college not only with 
liberal but with vocational interests, and that, once in college, they 
should still be able to take whatever form of education they can which 
affords "profit to themselves and to society." In order to accommodate 
larger numbers, colleges and universities should supplant academic 
studies to some degree with advanced vocational education. The com 
mission urged that all normal children should be encouraged to stay in 
school, on full time if possible, to the age of eighteen. 

The commission quite reasonably urged that the high-school curri 
culum should be differentiated to offer a wide range of alternatives; 
but its way of expressing this objective was revealing: 

The basis of differentiation should be, in the broad sense of the 
term, vocational, thus justifying the names commonly given, such 
as agricultural, business, clerical, industrial, fine-arts, and house 
hold-arts curriculums. Provision should be made also for those 
having distinctively academic interests and needs. 

Provision should be made also. This reference to the academic side of 
the high school as being hardly more than incidental to its main pur 
poses captures in a phrase how far the dominant thinking on the 
subject had gone in the quarter century since the report of the Com 
mittee of Ten. 

The rhetoric of the commission s report made it clear that the mem 
bers thought of themselves as recommending not an educational retreat 
but rather an advance toward the realization of democratic ideals. The 
report is breathless with the idealism of the Progressive era and the 
war with the hope of making the educational world safe for democ 
racy and bringing a full measure -of" opportunity to every child. Our 
secondary education, the commission argued, "must aim at nothing less 
than complete and worthy living for all youth" thus far had education 
gone beyond such a limited objective as developing the powers of the 
mind. Secondary-school teachers were urged to "strive to explore 
the inner meaning of the great democratic movement now struggling 
for supremacy." While trying to develop the distinctive excellences of 
individuals and various groups, the high school "must be equally 
zealous to develop those common ideas, common ideals, and common 

337 The Road to Life Adjustment 

modes of thought, feeling, and action, whereby America, through a 
rich, unified, common life, may render her truest service to a world 
seeking for democracy among men and nations/* 

* 4 

The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, which set the tone 
and expressed the ideas current in all subsequent quasi-official state 
ments on secondary-educational policy down to the life-adjustment 
movement, appeared in the midst of a focal change in the dimensions 
of the high-school population. Standing at 1.1 million in 1910, it rose 
swiftly to 4.8 million in 1930. When the document itself was published, 
all states had adopted compulsory education laws Mississippi, in 
1918, being the last to straggle into line. 

The schools, moreover, had been coping for some years, and were to 
continue to cope for many years more, -with the task of educating the 
children of that vast tidal wave of immigration that had come into the 
country between 1880 and the First World War, By 1911, for example, 
57-5 P 01 * cent of the children in the public schools of thirty-seven of the 
largest cities were of foreign-born parentage.? The immigrant children, 
now entering secondary schools, brought the same problems of class, of 
language, of Americanization that they had brought to the primary 
schools. Giving such children cues to American life, and often to ele 
mentary hygiene, seemed more important to many school superintend 
ents than developing their minds along the lines of the older education; 
and it is not difficult to understand the belief that a thorough ground 
ing in Latin was not a primary need, say, of a Polish immigrant s child 
in Buffalo. Immigrant parents, unfamiliar with American ways, were 
inadequate guides to what their children needed to know, and the 
schools were now thrust into the parental role. Moreover, the children, 
exposed to Yankee schoolmarms in the morning, were expected to be 
come instruments of Americanization by bringing home in the after 
noon instructions in conduct and hygiene that their parents would take 
to heart. Against this background one may better understand the em 
phasis of the Cardinal Principles on "worthy home-membership," 
**health/* and "citizenship." The common complaint that the modern 
school tries to assume too many of the functions of other social agencies, 

3 See, on this general subject, Alan M. Thomas, Jr.: "American Education and 
the Immigrant," Teachers College Record, Vol. LV (October, 1953-May, i954)> 


including the family, derives in good measure from the response of 
educators to this problem. 

Changes in professional education also favored new views of second 
ary education. The normal schools, which had been at best a land of 
stop-gap in teacher education, were now being replaced by teachers 
colleges and schools of education. Both the business of training teachers 
-and the study of the educational process were becoming specialized 
and professional. Unfortunately, as Lawrence Cremin has observed, 
the schools of education and the teachers* colleges grew up with a high 
degree of autonomy. 4 Increasingly, the mental world of the profes 
sional educationist became separated from that of the academic 
scholar. The cleavage between Teachers College and the rest of 
Columbia University which led to the quip that isoth Street is the 
widest street in the world became symbolic of a larger cleavage in the 
structure of American education. Professional educators were left to 
develop their ideas without being subjected to the intellectual disci 
pline that might have come out of a dialogue with university scholars. 
In sharp contrast to the days of Eliot, academicians scornfully turned 
away from the problems of primary and secondary education, which 
they now saw as the preoccupation of dullards; too many educationists 
were happy to see them withdraw, leaving the educationists free to 
realize their own credos in making plans for the middle and lower 

At the time the ideas of the Cardinal Principles were supplanting 
those of the Committee of Ten, a new kind of educational orthodoxy 
was taking form, founded in good part upon appeals to "democracy" 
and "science." John Dewey was the master of those for whom educa 
tional democracy was the central issue; Edward Lee Thorndike of 
those for whom it was the application to education of "what science 
tells us." It was not commonly believed that there was any problem in 
this union of democracy and science, for a widespread conviction ex 
isted (not shared, it must be said, by Thorndike) that there must be a 
kind of pre-established harmony between them that since both are 
good, both must serve the same ends and lead to the same conclusions; 
that there exists, in fact, a kind of science of democracy. 5 

Concerning the use, or misuse, as it may be, of Dewey s ideas, I 

4 The Transformation of the School ( New York, 1961 ), p. 176. 

5 For a witty analysis of the same blend of science and democracy in recent 
American political thought, see Bernard Crick: The American Science of Politics 
(London, 1959). 

339 The Road to Life Adjustment 

shall have something to say in the next chapter. Here it is important, 
however, to say a word about the use of the techniques of testing and 
the various kinds of psychological and educational research. Much of 
this research was, of course, valuable, though of necessity tentative. 
The difficulty was that what should have been simply a continuous in 
quiry had a way, in the fervent atmosphere of professional education, 
of being exalted into a faith not so much by those who were actually 
doing research as by those who were hungry to find its practical appli 
cations and eager to invoke the authority of science on behalf of their 
various crusades! The American mind seems extremely vulnerable to 
the belief that any alleged knowledge which can be expressed in 
figures ^s in fact as final and exact as the figures in which it is ex 
pressed. Army testing in the First World War is a case in point. It was 
very quickly and very "widely believed that the Army Alpha tests had 
actually measured intelligence; that they made it possible to assign 
mental ages; that mental ages, or intelligence as reported by tests, are 
fixed; that vast numbers of Americans had a mental age of only four 
teen; and that therefore the educational system must be coping with 
hordes of more or less backward children. 6 Although such overconfident 
interpretations of these tests were never without sharp critics among 
them John Dewey the misuse of tests seems to be a recurrent factor 
in American education. Of course, the credence given to the low view 
of human intelligence that some people derived from the tests could 
lead to quite different conclusions. To those not enchanted by the Am 
erican democratic credo and Edward Lee Thorndike himself was 
among them the effect of mental testing was to encourage elitist 
views. 7 But for those whose commitment to "democratic" values was 
imperturbable, the supposed discovery of the mental limitations of the 
masses only encouraged a search for methods and content in educa 
tion that would suit the needs of the intellectually mediocre or un- 
motivated. Paraphrasing Lincoln, the educators-for-democracy might 
have said that God must love the slow learners because he made so 
many of them. Elitists might coldly turn their backs on these large 
numbers, but democratic educators, embracing them as a fond mother 
embraces her handicapped child, would attempt to build the cur 
riculum upon their supposed needs. 

6 See the good brief account of the early impact of testing in Cremin: The 
Transformation of the School, pp. 185-92-. 

7 See, for example, Merle Curti s discussion of the views of Thorndike in The 
Social Ideas of American Educators ( New York, 1935 ), chapter 14. 


It is impossible here to stress too ranch the impetus given to the 
new educational creed by the moral atmosphere of Progressivism, for 
this creed was developed in an atmosphere of warm philanthropy and 
breathless idealism in which the needs of the less gifted and the under 
privileged commanded a generous response. Educators had spent many 
years discovering a canon and a creed, whose validity seemed now 
more certain than ever because it seemed to be vindicated morally by 
the needs of democracy and intellectually by the findings of science. 
More frequently than ever, the rallying cries of this creed were heard 
in the land: education for democracy, education for citizenship, the 
needs and interests of the child, education for all youth. There is an 
element of moral overstrain and a curious lack of humor among Ameri 
can educationists which will perhaps always remain a mystery to those 
more worldly minds that are locked out of their mental universe. The 
more humdrum the task the educationists have to undertake, the 
nobler and more exalted their music grows. When they see a chance 
to introduce a new course in family living or home economics, they 
begin to tune the fiddles of their idealism. When they feel they are 
about to establish the school janitor s right to be treated with respect, 
they grow starry-eyed and increase their tempo. And when they are 
trying to assure that the location of the school toilets will be so clearly 
marked that the dullest child can find them, they grow dizzy with ex 
altation and launch into wild cadenzas about democracy and self- 

\ 1 The silly season in educational writing had now opened. The prof es- 
sibnalization of education put a premium upon the sober treatment of 
every mundane problem, and the educators began to indulge in 
solemn and pathetic parodies of the pedantry of academic scholarship. 
Not liking to think of themselves as mere advocates of low-grade 
utilities, they began to develop the art of clothing every proposal, no 
matter how simple, common-sense, and sound, in the raiments of the 
most noble social or educational objectives. Was it desirable, for ex 
ample, for the schools to teach children something about safety? If so, 
a school principal could read a pretentious paper to the N.E.A., not on 
the important but perhaps routine business of teaching children to be 
careful, but on the exalted theme, "The Value of Instruction in Acci 
dent Prevention as a Factor in Unifying the Curriculum." It had now 
become possible to pretend that the vital thing was not to keep young 
sters from getting burnt or hit by vehicles but that teaching them about 
such things infused all learning with higher values although in this 

343- The Road to Life Adjustment 

case, at least, the speaker conceded, in closing: "Let me say that in 
struction in accident prevention serves not only to unify the curriculum 
but also to reduce accidents.** 8 


A traveler from a foreign country -whose knowledge of American 
education was confined to the writings of educational reformers might 
well have envisaged a rigid, unchanging secondary-school system 
chained to the demands of colleges and universities, fixed upon old 
ideas of academic study, and unreceptive to the wide variety of pupils 
it had in charge. The speaker at the N.EA. meeting of 1920 who 
lamented that the high schools were still "saturated with college re 
quirement rules and standards 79 and filled with principals and teach 
ers "trained in academic lore and possessing only the academic view 
point" 9 sounded a note of complaint that has never ceased to echo in 
the writings of the new educationists. In fact, the innovators had very 
considerable success in dismantling the old academic curriculum of the 
high school. It is hard for an amateur, and perhaps even a professional 
in education, to know how much of this was justified. But two things it 
does seem possible to assert: first, that curricular change after 1910 was 
little short of revolutionary; and second, that by the 1940*5 and 1950*8 
the demands of the life-adjustment educators for the destruction of the 
academic curriculum had become practically insatiable. 

The old academic curriculum, as endorsed by the Committee of Ten, 
reached its apogee around 1910. In that year more pupils were studying 
foreign languages or mathematics or science or English any one of 
these than all non-academic subjects combined. During the following 
forty-year span the academic subjects offered in the high-school cur 
ricula fell from about three fourths to about one fifth. Latin, taken in 
1910 by 49 per cent of public high-school pupils in grades 9 to 12, fell 
by 1949 to 7.8 per cent. All modern-language enrollments fell from 
84.1 per cent to 22 per cent. Algebra fell from 56.9 per cent to 26.8 per 
cent, and geometry from 30.9 per cent to 12.8 per cent; total mathe 
matics enrollments from 89.7 per cent to 55 per cent. Total science 
enrollments, if one omits a new catch-all course entitled "general 
science/* fell from 81.7 per cent to 33.3 per cent; or to 54.1 per cent if 
general science is included. English, though it almost held its own in 

8 N.EA. Proceedings., 1920, pp. 2045. 

9 Ibid., 1920, pp. 73-5- 


purely quantitative terms, was much diluted in many school systems. 
The picture in history and social studies is too complex to render in 
figures, but changing enrollments made it more parochial both in space 
and in time that is, it put greater stress on recent and American 
history, less on the remoter past and on European history. 1 

When the Committee of Ten examined the high-school curricula in 
1893, it found that forty subjects were taught, but since of these thirteen 
were offered in very few schools, the basic curriculum was founded on 
twenty-seven subjects. By 1941 no less than 2,74 subjects were offered, 
and only 59 of these could be classified as academic studies. What is 
perhaps most extraordinary is not this ten-fold multiplication of sub 
jects, nor the fact that academic studies had fallen to about one fifth the 
number, but the response of educational theorists: they were con 
vinced that academic studies \vere still cramping secondary education. 
In the life-adjustment movement, "which flourished in the late 1940*5 
and the 1950*5 with the encouragement of the United States Office of 
Education, there occurred an effort to mobilize the public secondary- 
school energies of the country to gear the educational system more 
closely to the needs of children who -were held to be in some sense 
uneducable. 2 

1 John F. Latimer, in What s Happened to Our High Schools?, has made a useful 
compilation of Office of Education statistics, and I have followed his presentation of 
the data; see especially chapters 4 and 7. It is important to note that enrollments 
thus put in percentages are not meant to conceal the fact that, with the immense 
growth in the high-school population, a larger number of the nation s youth could 
be studying some of these academic subjects even though a smaller portion of the 
high-school population was pursuing them. However, from 1933 to *939 there oc 
curred for the first time a drop not merely in the percentages of students studying 
certain subjects but in the absolute enrollments as well. 

The consequences in one field, which happens to have been well surveyed, 
might be examined. During the Second World War the problems of secondary- 
school education in mathematics became a matter of some official concern. In 1941 
the Naval Officers Training Corps reported that, of 4,200 candidates who were 
college freshmen, sixty- two per cent failed the arithmetic reasoning test. Only 
twenty-three per cent had had more than one and a half years of mathematics in 
high school. Later, a 1954 survey reported that sixty-two per cent of the nation s 
colleges had found it necessary to teach high-school algebra to entering freshmen. 
See L L. Kandel: American Education in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 
Mass., 1957), p. 62; and H. S. Dyer, R. Kalin, and F. M. Lord: Problems in Mathe 
matical Education (Princeton, 1956), p. 2,3. Many high schools appear to have been 
approaching the view, widespread among life-adjustment theorists, that foreign 
languages, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry have "relatively little value except 
as college preparation or except for a few college curricula/* and that "therefore 
most of the instruction in those fields should be postponed until college/ Harl R. 
Douglass: Secondary Education for Life Adjustment of American Youth (New- 
York, 1952), p. 598. 

2 The term "uneducable" is, of course, not used by life-adjustment educators. It 
is my translation of what one is asserting about a youth in secondary school when 

343 27^ Road to Life Adjustment 

To some degree the life-adjustment movement was a consequence of 
the crisis in the morale of American youth -which has been observable 
since the Second World War, But it was more than this: it was an at 
tempt on the part of educational leaders and the United States Office 
of Education to make completely dominant the values of the crusade 
against intellectualism that had been going on since 1910. Looking at 
the country s secondary education shortly after the end of the Second 
World War, John W. Studebaker, then Commissioner of Education, 
observed that only about seven youths out of ten were entering senior 
high school (grades 10 to 12), and that fewer than four remained to 
graduate, 3 Despite the efforts made in the preceding forty years to in 
crease the "holding power" of the schools, large numbers of youngsters 
were still uninterested in completing their secondary education. The 
effort to enrich the academic curriculum seemed to have failed in one 
of its main purposes; the suggestion was now made that the cur 
riculum had not been enriched enough. 

The life-adjustment movement proposed to remedy the situation by 
stimulating ~the development of programs of education more in har 
mony with life-adjustment needs of all youth/* This would be done by 
devising an education "which better equips all American youth to live 
democratically with, satisfaction to themselves and profit to society as 
home members, workers, and citizens / /At a national conference held 
in Chicago in May, 1947, the conferees adopted a resolution drafted by 
Dr. Charles A. Prosser, the director of Dunwoody Institute of Min 
neapolis, an agency of industrial education. In its original form (it was 
later slightly reworded in order "to avoid misinterpretation and mis 
understanding" ), this resolution expressed the belief of the members 

one says that lie can neither absorb an academic education nor learn a desirable 

3 Life Adjustment Education for Even/ youth (Washington, n d. [1948?]), p. 
in. This publication was issued by the Office of Education of the Federal Security 
Agency and was prepared in the Division of Secondary Education and the Division 
of Vocational Education, For the Prosser resolution and other statements of pur 
pose in this repetitive document, cited in the following paragraphs, see pp. 2-5, 
i5n., i8n., 22, 48-52 ,8890, and passim. 

At the same time that the Office of Education was sponsoring life adjustment, the 
President s Commission on Higher Education -was advocating, in its report of 947, 
that the colleges themselves should no longer select "as their special clientele 
persons possessing verbal aptitudes and a capacity for grasping abstractions,"* 
and that they should give more attention to cultivating other aptitudes "such as 
social sensitivity and versatility, artistic ability, motor skill and dexterity, and 
mechanical aptitude and ingenuity." Higher Education for American Democracy: 
A Report of the President s Commission on Higher Education, Vol. I (Washington, 
1947 ) P- S*. 


of the conference that the needs of the great majority of American 
youth were not being adequately served by secondary schools. Twenty 
per cent of them, it was said, were being prepared for college; another 
twenty per cent for skilled occupations. But the remaining sixty per 
cent, according to spokesmen for the crusade, were unfit for either of 
these programs and should be given education for life adjustment. The 
life-adjustment theorists were explicit about the qualities they at 
tributed to the neglected sixty per cent who needed life-adjustment 
education. These were mainly children from unskilled and semi 
skilled families who had low incomes and provided a poor cultural 
environment. They began school later than others, continued to be 
retarded in school, made low grades, scored lower on intelligence and 
achievement tests, lacked interest in school work, and were "less 
emotionally mature nervous, feel less secure." 

After having compiled this depressing list of the traits of their 
clientele, the authors of the Office of Education s first manual on Life 
Adjustment went on to say that "these characteristics are not intended 
to brand the group as in any sense inferior/ The peculiar self-defeating 
version of "democracy" entertained by these educators somehow made 
it possible for them to assert that immature, insecure, nervous, retarded 
slow learners from poor cultural environments were "in no sense in 
ferior" to more mature, secure, confident, gifted children from better 
cultural environments. 4 This verbal genuflection before "democracy" 
seems to have enabled them to conceal from themselves that they were, 
with breathtaking certainty, writing off the majority of the nation s 
children as being more or less uneducable that is, in the terms of 
the Prosser resolution, unfit not just for the academic studies that pre 
pare for college but even for programs of vocational education leading 
to "desirable skilled occupations." What kind of education would be 
suitable for this unfortunate majority? Certainly not intellectual de 
velopment nor cumulative knowledge, but practical training in being 
family members, consumers, and citizens. They must be taught the 

4 That the capacities of such a large proportion of American youth should be so 
written off in the name of "democracy" is one of the more perplexing features of the 
movement. At least one of its supporters, however, faced up to its implications wnen 
he said that this neglected group lacks "aroused interests or pronounced aptitudes/ 
but that this fact is "probably fortunate for a society having a large number of jobs 
to be done requiring no unusual aptitudes or interests." Edward K. Hankin: "The 
Crux of Life Adjustment Education/" Bulletin of the National Association of Sec 
ondary-School Principals (November, 1953), p. 72. This is a possible point of view 
and a more realistic assessment of the implications of life-adjustment education. But 
it is hardly "democratic." 

345 The Road to Life Adjustment 

terms would have been familiar to any reader of the Cardinal Princi 
ples "ethical and moral living"; home and family life; citizenship; the 
uses of leisure; how to take care of their health; "occupational adjust 
ment." Here, as the authors of Life Adjustment Education for Every 
Youth put it, was "a philosophy of education which places life values 
above acquisition of knowledge." The conception, implicit in this ob 
servation, that knowledge has little or nothing to do with life values," 
was an essential premise of the whole movement Repeatedly, life ad 
justment educators were to insist that intellectual training is of no use 
in solving the "real life problems " of ordinary youth. 

The thinking behind the life-adjustment movement is difficult to ex 
hume from the repetitive bulletins on the subject compiled by the Of 
fice of Education in Washington. But before the movement had been 
so named, its fundamental notions had been set forth by Dr. Prosser 
himself, an experienced administrator in vocational education, when he 
delivered his Inglis Lecture at Harvard University in 1939- 5 Although 
there are in the published lecture occasional traces of the influence of 
John Dewey s passion for educational democracy, Prosser relied mainly 
upon psychological research, and he expressed a more fundamental 
piety for the findings of "science." ( Life-adjustment educators would do 
anything in the name of science except encourage children to study it. ) 
Thorndike and his followers had shown, Prosser imagined, that there is 
no such thing as intellectual discipline whose benefits can be trans 
ferred from one study, situation, or problem to another. ^Nothing could 
be more certain than that science has proven false the doctrine of 
general education and its fundamental theory that memory or imagina 
tion or the reason or the will can be trained as a power." When this 
archaic notion is abandoned, as it must be, all that is left is education 
in various specifics. There is no such thing as general mechanical skill; 
there are only specific skills developed by practice and use. It is like 
wise with the mind. There is, for example, no such thing as the 
memory; there are only specific facts and ideas which have become 
available for recall because we have found use for them. 

Contrary, then, to what had been believed by exponents of the older 

5 Secondary Education and Life (Cambridge, Mass., 1939). The argument sum 
marized in this and the following pages is largely in pp. 149; especially pp. 7-10, 
15-16, 19-^1, 3i~5, 47-9- 


concept of education as the development of intellectual discipline, there 
are no general mental qualities to be developed; there are only specific 
things to be known. The usability and teachability of these things go 
hand in hand; the more immediately usable an item of knowledge is, 
the more readily it can be taught. The value of a school subject can be 
measured by the number of immediate, actual life situations to which it 
directly applies. The important thing, then, is not to teach pupils how to 
generalize, but to supply them directly with the information they need 
for daily living for example, to teach them, not physiology, but how 
to keep physically fit. The traditional curriculum consists simply of 
studies that once were useful in this way but have ceased to be so. "The 
general rule seems to be that the younger any school study, the greater 
is its utilitarian value in affairs outside the schoolroom, and the older 
the study, the less the usefulness of its content in meeting the real de 
mands of living." Students learn more readily and retain more of what 
they learn when the transfer of content from school to life is immediate 
and direct. It is, in fact, the very usefulness of a subject that determines 
its disciplinary value to the mind. "On all these counts business arith 
metic is superior to plane or solid geometry; learning ways of keeping 
physically fit, to the study of French; learning the technique of select 
ing an occupation, to the study of algebra; simple science of everyday 
life, to geology; simple business English, to Elizabethan Classics/ 

It was an irresistible conclusion drawn from scientific research, said 
Prosser, that the best teaching material is "the life-adjustment and not 
the education-for-more education studies." Why, then, had the col 
leges and universities persisted in fastening unusable and unteachable 
traditional subjects on the secondary schools? Quite aside from the 
vested interests of teachers of these subjects, the main reason, he 
thought, was that the higher institutions had needed some device for 
selecting the abler pupils and eliminating the others. (The teaching of 
such subjects as languages and algebra had the function, one must 
believe, not of educating anyone, but simply of acting as hurdles that 
would trip up weaker pupils before they got to college.) This out 
moded technique required four wasteful and expensive years of futile 
study in supposedly "disciplinary" subjects. The selection of pupils 
suited to college, Prosser thought, could now be made with infinitely 
more economy and accuracy in a few hours of mental testing. Perhaps, 
then, traditionalists, "as a sporting proposition/ could be persuaded to 
drop at least half the academic curriculum for all students and keep 
only a few of the older studies in proportion to their surviving useful- 

347 The Road to Life Adjustment 

ness. On this criterion, "all foreign languages and all mathematics 
should be dropped from the list of required college-preparatory 
studies" in favor of the more usable subjects physical science, English, 
and social studies. 

Many new studies of direct-use value should be added to the cur 
riculum: English of a severely practical kind, offering "communication 
skills"; literature dealing with modern life; science ( only "qualitative" 
science) courses that would give youth "the simple science of every 
day life," tell "how science increases OUT comfort . . . promotes our 
enjoyment of life . . . helps men get their work done . . . increases 
wealth"; practical business guidance and "simple economics for youth," 
supplemented perhaps by material on the "economic history of youth 
in the United States"; civics, focusing on "civic problems of youth" 
and on the local community; mathematics, consisting only of varieties 
of applied arithmetic; social studies, giving attention to "wholesome 
recreation in the community," amenities and manners, uses of leisure, 
social and family problems of youth, and the "social history of youth in 
the United States"; finally, of course, "experiences in the fine arts," and 
"experiences in the practical arts," and vocational education. In this 
way, the curriculum could be made to conform to the laws of learning 
discovered by modern psychological science, and all children would 
benefit to a much greater degree from their secondary schooling. 6 

In a rather crude form Prosser had here given expression to the con 
clusion drawn by many educationists from experimental psychology, 
that "science," by destroying the validity of the idea of mental disci 
pline, had destroyed the basic assumption upon which the ideal of a 
liberal education was based. Prosser had this in mind when he as 
serted with such confidence that "nothing could be more certain" than 
that science had proven false the assumptions of general education. 
Behind this remarkable dogmatism there lies an interesting chapter in 
the history of ideas. The older ideal of a classical liberal education, as 
expressed in nineteenth-century America and elsewhere, had been 
based upon two assumptions. The first was the so-called faculty 
psychology. In this psychology, the mind was believed to be a substan 
tive entity composed of a number of parts or "faculties" such as rea 
son, imagination, memory, and the like. It was assumed that these 
faculties, like physical faculties, could be strengthened by exercise; and 

6 For a later, full-scale, authoritative statement of the views of this school on the 
content of the curriculum, see Harold Alberty: Reorganizing the High School Cur 
riculum ( New York, 1953 ) 


in a liberal education, through constant mental discipline, they were 
gradually so strengthened. It was also generally believed that certain 
subjects had an established superiority as agents o mental discipline 
above all, Latin, Greek, and mathematics. The purpose of developing 
competence in these subjects was not merely to lay the foundation for 
learning more Latin, Greek, or mathematics, but, far more important, 
to train the powers of the mind so that they would be more adequate 
for whatever task they might confront. 7 

In good time it was found that the faculty psychology did not hold 
up under philosophic analysis or the scientific study of the functions of 
mind. Moreover, with the immense growth in the body of knowledge 
and the corresponding expansion of the curriculum, the old confidence 
that the classical languages and mathematics had an exclusive place of 
honor in mental discipline seemed more and more a quaint parochial 
conceit. 8 

But most modern psychologists and educational theorists were aware 
that the decline of the faculty psychology and the classical- 
mathematical curriculum did not in itself put an end to the question 
whether such a thing as mental discipline is a realizable end of educa 
tion. If mental discipline were, after all, meaningless, everything that 
had been done in the name of liberal education for centuries seemed 
to have been based on a miscalculation. The question whether the 
mind can be disciplined, or generally trained, survived the faculty 
psychology and took on a new, more specific form: can training exer 
cised and developed in one mental operation develop a mental facility 
that can be transferred to another? This general question could, of 
course, be broken down into endless specific ones: can acts of memori 
zation (as William James asked in an early rudimentary experiment 
conducted on himself) facilitate other memorization? Can training in 
one form of sensory discrimination enhance other discriminations? Can 

7 The classic statement in America of this view of mental discipline was the 
Yale Report of 1828, which originally appeared in The American Journal of Science 
and Arts., Vol. XV (January, 1829), pp. 297351. It is largely reprinted in Hofstad- 
ter and Smith, eds.: American Higher Education: A Documentary History, 
Vol. I, pp. 275-91. 

8 It was also a conceit that served to justify a good deal of inferior pedagogy. 
There is overwhelming evidence, for example, that the classical languages were 
taught in the old-time college in a narrow grammarian s spirit, and not as a means of 
introducing students to the cultural Me of classical antiquity. See Richard Hofstad- 
ter and Walter P. Metzger: The Development of Academic Freedom in the United 
States (New York, 1955), PP- 226-30; Richard Hofstadter and C. DeWitt Hardy: 
The Development and Scope of Higher Education in the United States (New 
York, 1952), chapter i and pp. 53-6. 

349 The Road to Life Adjustment 

the study of Latin facilitate the subsequent study of French? If a trans 
fer of training did occur, a cumulation of such transfers over several 
years of a rigorous liberal education might produce a mind which was 
better trained in general. But if transfer of training did not take place, 
most of the cumulative academic studies were quite pointless outside 
the items of knowledge contained in these studies themselves. 

At any rate, in the confidence that they could throw light on a 
question of central importance, experimental psychologists, spurred by 
Thorndike, began early in the twentieth century to seek experimental 
evidence on the transfer of training. Anyone -who reads an account of 
these experiments might well conclude that they were focused on 
such limited aspects of the problem that they were pathetically in 
adequate; individually and collectively, they did not shed very much 
light on the grand question to which they were ultimately directed. 
However, as a consequence of a great many ingenious and often in 
teresting experiments, evidence of a kind did begin to accumulate. 
Some of it, notably in two papers published by Thorndike in 1901 
and 1924, was taken by educational thinkers to be decisive evidence 
against transfer of training in any degree considerable enough to vindi 
cate the idea of mental discipline. This and similar evidence from other 
researchers was, in any case, seized upon by some educational theorists. 
As W. C. Bagley once remarked: "It was inevitable that any theory 
which justified or rationalized the loosening of standards should be re 
ceived with favor," by those who, without deliberate intent, distorted 
experimental findings in the interest of their mission to reorganize the 
high schools to accommodate the masses. 9 

Actually the accumulating experimental evidence proved contradic 
tory and confusing, and those educators who insisted that its lessons 
were altogether clear and that nothing was so certain as what it 
yielded were simply ignoring all findings that did not substantiate their 
views. Their misuse of experimental evidence, in fact, constitutes a 
major scandal in the history of educational thought. If a quantitative 
survey of the experiments means anything, these educators ignored the 
bulk of the material, for four of five of the experimental studies showed 
the presence of transfer under certain conditions. There seems to have 
been no point at which the preponderant opinion of outstanding ex 
perimental psychologists favored the anti-transfer views that were 
drawn upon by educationists like Prosser as conclusive on what 

9 W. C. Bagley: "The Significance of the Essentialist Movement in Educational 
Theory," Classical Journal, Vol. XXXIV ( 1939), p. 336. 


"science has proven." Today, experimental psychology offers them no 
comfort. As Jerome Bruner summarizes it in his remarkable little book, 
The Process of Education: "Virtually all of the evidence of the last two 
decades on the nature of learning and transfer has indicated that . . . 
it is indeed a fact that massive general transfer can be achieved by 
appropriate learning, even to the degree that learning properly under 
optimum conditions leads one to learn how to learn/ " 1 Presumably, 
the ideal of a liberal education is still better vindicated by the educa 
tional experience of the human race than by experimental psychology; 
but in so far as such scientific inquiry is taken as a court of resort, its 
verdict is vastly more favorable to the views of those who believe in 
the possibility of mental discipline than it was represented to be by the 
educational prophets of life adjustment. 

* 7 " 

The life-adjustment movement stated, in an extreme form, the proposi 
tion toward which professional education had been moving for well 
over four decades: that in a sys